PAPERBACKS

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The Touch by Julie Myerson, Picador pounds 5.99. For believers, charismatic healing lies towards the acceptable end of the faith spectrum - embarrassing, perhaps, but this side of the scandalous. So, for disabled Donna, her husband Will, sister Gayle and brother Simon, the entry of a lone evangelical preacher and self-proclaimed healer into their middle-class South London lives is at first only a curiosity. But the sudden and inexplicable cure of Donna's crippling (and "idiopathic") scoliosis triggers a chain of traumatic sexual reactions within the family, which teaches them no longer to treat such matters lightly. Myerson's acute prose and fluid plotting are confidently unelaborate throughout.

A Goat's Song by Dermot Healy, Harvill pounds 6.99. Goats come with built- in sexual greed, a destructive mouth and a mournful cry - not unlike Jack Ferris, Healy's wrecked, Behanesque playwright, marooned out in the West of Ireland, bleating for the loss of Catherine Adams as she plays the lead role in his Dublin play. The novel's title is also, as Ferris does not fail to point out, the etymology of the word "tragedy". But, between the booze and the self-pity, there is little enough catharsis to be got out of his fate, displayed at length throughout the first eight chapters. Matters considerably improve thereafter, as Healy embarks on a long account of Catherine's upbringing, as the daughter of a Fermanagh RUC man torn between his love of Ireland and the callous inheritance of Protestant Ulster. Healy, a Catholic writer, succeeds in getting across the idea that the Protestants' tragedy might actually be that of all the Irish, if only they knew it.

Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist by Anthony Cronin, Flamingo pounds 8.99. One of Beckett's colleagues in the French Resistance said that "If he had a fault, it was certainly not that he talked too much." Beckett's minimalism is one aspect of his modernism. He pared down his literary concerns with single-minded efficiency until he faced the last simple, inescapable choice: boredom or suffering. But Beckett's life involved him also in many of the more dynamic fascinations of the mid-century modern movement: psychoanalysis, stream of consciousness, anti-fascism - even, in his early days, motorcycle racing. The course of Beckett's life runs from the quiet, suburban young cricketer of Trinity to the Nobel laureate and denizen of Tier Temps, a bleak Parisian old-folks' home, where his room overlooked a small grass courtyard and a single little tree, exactly as in the stage set he specified for Godot. It is a life well told in this large and sympathetic biography.

Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth Century Lives by Natalie Zemon Davis, Harvard pounds 9.95. Professor Davis, author of The Return of Martin Guerre, here examines the lives of three remarkable women. Two of them were autobiographers - a Jewess from Hamburg (later Metz), who wrote in Yiddish about her merchant family's rise to prosperity and fall into near bankruptcy, and an Ursuline nun proselytising (with unusual empathy) the Canadian Indians during the early French settlement. The last of Davis's subjects was Dutch: Marua Sybilla Merian, a painter of flora and fauna, who wound up in Surinam, owning slaves while studying and recording the natural life of the colony. A deeply committed but also pleasantly discursive and diverting history of women living on the fringes of Europe's early modern culture.

Interplay: A Kind of Commonplace Book by D J Enright, OUP pounds 9.99. Commonplace books are properly private anthologies, without theme or design beyond the confluence of quirk and chance. That does not mean they cannot be shared: W H Auden and John Julius Norwich have both published theirs, to excellent effect. But the poet and critic D J Enright hesitates over the classification of this book, and he is right to do so. It is not simply an aid to memory and repository of personal cuttings and cullings; it is almost a book of pensees, in which Enright tells anecdotes from his life, speculates philosophically, delivers aphorisms and generally muses about. It proves to be by turns erudite and comic, humane and venomous, with particular opprobrium reserved for professors of English ("assassins hired to put an end to literature"), among whose number Enright once counted himself.

The Stones of Aran: Labyrinth by Tim Robinson, Penguin pounds 8.99. Arainn is the largest and most northerly of the three Aran Islands which lie strung across the mouth of Galway Bay. They're shaped like broken-off pieces of a soda loaf: sloping beaches on the northern coast and, in the south west, sheer 300 foot cliffs. My own visit to Arainn, 25 years ago, was an unforgettable encounter, but I wish I'd had Tim Robinson's double volume (this being the second) with me. Book I, subtitled Pilgrimage, describes minutely the perimeter of the island, while the present volume does the same job for the interior. Robinson, a Yorkshire "blow-in" to the Arans, has something interesting to say about most aspects of the island geography, whether social, physical or moral.

Comments