Saturday 29 June 1996
The Double Tongue by William Golding (Faber, pounds 5.99) A final mysterious work, filled with dark magic and sympathetic insight, this novella is Golding's Tempest. Strikingly vivid, the protean imagination of the elderly novelist inhabits the body of Areka, an ill-favoured Greek girl who leaves her unloving family to serve at the Oracle of Delphi. The Golding trademark - a lightning moment of transcendental change - occurs when a god first possesses this gawky medium: "Suddenly the tomb was full of rolling, rollicking laughter... and I knew as my body worked like some automaton that it came through my own mouth." Electric stuff.
Reach for the Ground by Jeffrey Bernard (Duckworth, pounds 8.99) Not every columnist would commence a new collection with a trawl of damning criticism directed at himself: "menacing and a bit unpleasant," "sad old drunken bore," "a shit of the first order." Perhaps true - his repetition of the gibes shows how he harbours grudges - yet Bernard also happens to be a fine stylist and a real pro. He maintains his output, studded with one-liners ("Bitter? No more than Angostura"), in circumstances which would have defeated many of his critics. His leg is amputated on page 132. But why are the pieces undated? Vinegary and droll, this is a valuable social document.
The Black Diaspora by Ronald Segal (Faber, pounds 9.99) Fuelled by Segal's simmering indignation, this is an ambitious, absorbing account of slavery and its aftermath. 10.2m people made the terrible crossing from Africa to the New World, with the first slave revolt recorded in 1522. Later uprisings were put down so ferociously that some of these pages are hard to read. Segal records the grudging, botched process of emancipation with icy incredulity. He visits the major black populations outside Africa and chronicles their achievements. Curiously, there is scant mention of the Back-to-Africa movement and Liberia is not listed in the index.
Someone Wonderful by Barbara Neil (Headline, pounds 6.99) Barbara Neil's tale of an aunt and niece in search of the "Happily Ever After" - ie, marriageable men - is an innocuous, though at times mawkish, read. Brought together after the death of a husband and a mother, Grace and her young niece Lily move into a flat off Hyde Park and present a brave face to the world - Grace cheering herself up with young black man and Brazilian aristocrats. Tuscany, Marbella and the South of France provide the backdrop. Joanna Trollope goes Eurotrash.
Gangland Britain by Tony Thompson (Coronet, pounds 6.99) The successors to the Krays and Richardsons keep a much lower profile. How many know of London's six major crime families? Though we hear tantalising fragments about the Adams brothers, who have grown "spectacularly rich" shipping cocaine through Bosnia, most of Thompson's informants are small fry eager to bend the ear of a hack with gruesome yarns. Only one-sixth of the book is devoted to traditional organised crime. In order to maintain the body count, Thompson turns to the Yardies, Mafia, Triads and Hell's Angels. The result is gory, disturbing - and, of course, irresistibly readable.
Hanging Up by Delia Ephron (Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99) Eve and her sisters are always on the phone and, being Californians they have a lot to talk about - especially when their mother goes to live in Great Bear with a man as tall as a redwood. But it's Eve, the sensitive middle sister, who acts as the family's central communication exchange and emotional conduit, keeping her sisters up to date with their father's suicidal tendencies and their mother's drinking problem. Like her own real-life big sister Nora, Delia Ephron likes her dialogue dry and sparkling - and her families interestingly neurotic.
Incidents in the Rue Laugier by Anita Brookner (Penguin, pounds 5.99) In her latest novel, Anita Brookner's characters actually get around to having sex, instead of settling for the usual warm baths and comforting meals. Maud Gonthier, a serious young French woman from Dijon, fulfils her mother's fantasies by sleeping with an unsuitable man (in this case the wonderfully drawn David Tyler, an English cad); then cops out by marrying a suitable one (a boy from Eastbourne). A novel that begs the eternal question of whether it's passion or restraint that finally pays. It always comes as something of a shock to remember that in Brookner's world, it is kindness that generally kills.
Therapy by David Lodge (Penguin, pounds 6.99) Laurence "Tubby" Passmore feels awful about his life but doesn't understand why. The script-writer of a successful television sitcom, he's making tons of money - and while women seem to adore him, he wouldn't think of cheating on his perfect wife. When Tubby's trick knee starts acting up, he even wonders if it might signify some sort of buried dissatisfaction; and from the moment he starts doubting himself, everything goes horribly wrong. Lodge's first novel set outside academia is funny and smartly written, but doesn't quite come off. Perhaps because it contains more jokes about Kierkegaard than a raft of Woody Allen films - which may add up to a few too many.
From Wimbledon to Waco by Nigel Williams (Faber, pounds 5.99) Lying by a glittering Hollywood pool dressed in his grubby Marks and Spencer shorts, Millets hiking boots and a dirty T-shirt, Nigel Williams decides he could live in America forever. It's a long way from Holmbush Road, Wimbledon, but the sunshine and margaritas are better. Williams's account of his family's first trip to the States takes in Hopi Indian reservations, Vegas slot machines and the tight-assed inhabitants of New England - and a family row about negotiating the LA freeway system. Essential in-flight reading for any SW19-ers contemplating going west.
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