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.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove