BOOK REVIEW / Bookshop Window

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HEART CONDITIONS by Sara Lewis, Abacus, pounds 5.99

Evicted by Nick after five years of cohabitation, pregnant Alice Hammond is left to plough her unassertive furrow through New York's landscape of moral set- aside. She finds herself foisted on Grandmother, exchanging a bed for the role of put-upon maid of all work. The lonely journey into parenthood sharpens her eye to the small disloyal ties and conditioned selfishnesses of both family and workplace. Alice copes because she has to, and because Sara Lewis, in her quietly marvellous first novel, understands how ordinary and unavoidable heroism is. In the end, this honest, pained, humorous voyage turns into a triple love story. Its texture is the ambiguous, stony, seed-rich soil of real life. And Lewis is a master gardener.

ADOLF'S REVENGE by Lynne Alexander, Abacus, pounds 8.99

Two aged sisters, Adolf and Pinball, sit in their rocking chairs and lament the entrapment of the Chick, Pinball's daughter, by an impossibly perfect Englishman called the Prince. The two women are repellent specimens whose physical loathsomeness mirrors the psychological damage wreaked on them by history and race. The Chick, understandably, takes into marriage a vast trousseau of insecurity. When the all-wise, all- loving Prince eventually abandons the Chick, Adolf's revenge is pagan. With the workings of emotional dependence as Alexander's focus, the tale itself remains banal, but its telling is wonderfully fanged and fetid.

NOTHING IS BLACK, Deidre Madden, Faber, pounds 12.99

'I'm unhappy because I don't know how to live,' Nuala confesses to Anna on page 146 of Deidre Madden's slim 151-page novel. Since this unhappiness occasioned Nuala's arrival on page one, to spend a remote Donegal summer with her painter cousin Claire, little progress would appear to have been made. Claire has a routine skeleton in her own cupboard, but, being an artist, understands how life is at best a series of imperfect sketches. On page 147, however, another of Nuala's all-too-truisms solves the undifficult problem afflicting neighbour Anna. So, one cheer at least. But, oh dear, Nothing is Black, a novel consisting of explication unrelieved by drama, of work-shy adjectives ('strange', 'curious') and lazy adverbs ('moodily'), achieves its barren atmosphere in entirely the wrong way.

Graham Anderson

THE LIVING STREAM by Edna Longley, Bloodaxe, pounds 9.95. This week's events add a poetic tremor to this distinctive and vigorous set of essays on Northern Ireland's literature and politics. Longley once wrote that 'poetry and politics, like church and state, should be separated'. She pursues that idea with reference to poets from Yeats and MacNeice to Heaney, Durcan, Mahon and Hewitt. The book begins with what might seem an outrageous understatement - 'It has grown harder to discuss Irish literature without being drawn into politics'. But there are swipes at sentimentalists, nationalists, loyalists and 'misty-eyed Americans', and a serious attack on the over-virile culture behind the recent Field Day anthology of Irish literature.

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