BOOKS IN BRIEF

8 Troutstream by Gerald Lynch, 4th Estate £l4.99.

Gripping madness, snobbery and Elvis-impersonators (or "Elvii") stalk the streets of Troutstream, Ontario, a town that was originally designed by a graduate student at the University of Ottawa as the epitome of the 1950s suburban dream. Latterly, clairvoyant Iris is reading wickedness in her tea-leaves and little blind Michael senses that Evil is afoot as well. Soon teenage girls and pets go missing and are found mutilated in bins. Yet this gore is treated almost incidentally to the domestic dramas of a cast of characters - usefully identified at the outset, immediately after the vital Troutstream street map - who vie for the narrative reins to tell us of two-faced politicians, subsidised housing projects and incorrigible voyeurism.

The voices range from a lushness worthy of Stephen Fry - "My friend Nigel does drape his trunk in such a variety of brightly coloured materials as would make a gathering of hot air balloon or tall-ship enthusiasts grin sheepishly at their rigging" - to the slight brutishness of the predominating mystery narrator whose identity couldn't really be puzzled out without that cast list, but who gives up his secret in the end and injects the sinister Twin Peaks tone. (I don't suppose the Lynches, David and Gerald, are related in more than their gift for black comic menace?)

The book may look more like stories and weird character studies united by a single place, but this doesn't really stretch the term novel too far, mainly because it is all just so, well - wonderfully novel. Lynch is categorically a writer to watch.

8 Going Naked is the Best Disguise by Steven Jacobi, Secker £9.99.

"Everyone thinks their families are eccentric," says the narrator demurely on page two, before going on to prove that his family is indeed spectacularly bizarre. While the menfolk are for the most part shy incompetents, his brusque German mother hoovers in the nude, cleans compulsively and saves mustard jars to use as glasses; his Aunty Betty thinks Jesus is living in her back garden, and his grandmother doesn't believe in serving cold food - her catchphrase is: "I'll just go and heat up the ice-cream."

These exotics bloom luridly in the jewellery quarter of '60s Birmingham, where the schoolboy narrator, necessarily bland in comparison, struggles vainly for normality. As a small boy's insight into the madness of adults it has charm, but unfortunately Jacobi has forgotten to put a plot in; this is a series of sometimes hilarious episodes, interleaved with a wartime correspondence that, like the book as a whole, only develops a shape towards the end. The fact that the boy grows up in the course of the novel is not quite enough of a narrative thrust.

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