Tindal Street press, £8.99 Order (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
The Three Suitors of Fred Belair, By EA Markham
Final stories are vintage Markham
Wednesday 28 January 2009
What a good writer EA Markham was. He died last year in Paris after enjoying too little of his retirement from his position as professor of creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. His publisher announces this as his last volume of stories, which is a great pity. This book and its predecessors, Meet Me in Mozambique and At Home with Miss Vanesa, make up a wonderfully rich and entertaining trilogy.
In the title story, Winifred Belair has returned from France to the Caribbean island of Saint Caesare (modelled on Markham's native Montserrat). After unhappy relationships with a Frenchman and an English writer, summed up by her as an "intellectual jackarse", "Fred" is placing discreet ads to find a new man. The first to turn up is a bogus clergyman, who is given short shrift by Fred's women friends, who are sifting the applications.
This is fairly straightforward comic stuff, but there's no such thing, really, as a typical Markham story. And perhaps "story" is the wrong term for his highly original style of narration. Take "Passion": it begins with a discussion of dreams, then the narrator wakes from a dream, gets up and sets off for his language class. He gets lost in Paris, and this starts a train of thoughts on absent-mindedness and its progression to geriatric dementia. The story ends with our narrator hunting for something to read at night, dreading sleep and its dreams.
It is difficult to convey the complex richness of Markham's writing: "Passion" is shot through with literary allusions, asides and jokes, all in a perfectly paced narrative.
Despite the title, most of this book is taken up with the thoughts and memories of Pewter Stapleton. In many ways, Pewter is Markham's alter ego: writer, intellectual, Francophile, ex-professor, ruminating much on age and death. In "The Artist as an Old Man", he imagines his final days: "bitter and disillusioned, homeless, begging on the streets of Paris". A dark ending? Difficult to see it that way, with the book so radiantly full of life.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 2 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
- 5 This crazy skiing video will leave you feeling queasy
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Downton Abbey season 5 episode 6 - review: Thomas and Lady Edith show sad signs of the times
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party