Sunday 10 September 1995
! A Different Sea by Claudio Magris, trs M S Spurr, Harvill pounds 7.99. Magris is one of those intellectuals whose gnomic playfulness can both infuriate and fascinate. This brief novel is about Enrico, an Istrian who, in 1909, shuns authoritarian Europe to read the ancient Greeks among the sheep of Patagonia. But he reappears in the post-Great War chaos and yearns now for the Austro-Hungarian simplicities of his childhood. Yet nothing here is quite as it seems and at times Magris's narrative reads like an ironic commentary on New Ageism and the Vietnam era.
! Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn, Minerva pounds 6.99. A poetic and original prose writer, Blackburn again fuses biography, travel writing and reminiscence (she last did it for Napoleon on St Helena) to present the story of Daisy Bates, a kind of Apostle of the Aborigines. Blackburn's identification with this extraordinary Irish woman - bigamist, traveller, storyteller, amateur prostitute, self-taught ethnologist and CBE - is so total that author and subject exchange dreams and memories like friends in a school playground. Few writers would get away with it, but Blackburn's imaginative commitment carries her through.
! Easy Money: Inside the Gambler's Mind by David Spanier, Oldcastle Books pounds 6.99. Not terribly systematic - but then no systems win all the time, right? - still, a very entertaining survey of why Gambling Is Good for You. We visit casinos, study the theory of Blackjack, the history of Gambler's Anonymous, enter the world of John Aspinall and "Lucky" Lucan and hear of attempts to use computers to predict roulette wheels. There are games of chance with a lot more buzz than you get queuing for a lottery ticket, and this book proves it.
! The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five Fairy Stories by A S Byatt, Vintage pounds 5.99. The first four are fairy stories in the accepted sense but Byatt's last is a 180-page novella. Middle-aged Gillian addresses a "narratology" conference in Istanbul, when she suddenly sees, hovering above the audience, the empty, sterile embodiment of her horror of ageing and the body's decay. So far, so spooky. But later, in her hotel room, a djinn pops out of the bottle she got in the Bazaar and - alakazam! - her existential problems are all solved, for the djinn not only has the usual three wishes, he is the most amazing sex-therapist. To this mere narratologist, it's like a modern novel tagged with an ending from an X-rated Disney cartoon.
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