Books: Independent choice

Bohemian fiction

At the age of 70, Samuel Lock found great success with his first novel, which invited comparisons with the work of Alan Hollinghurst. As Luck Would Have It was elegantly written, rather gay and set in the bedsit world of 1950s London. His follow-up - elegantly written, rather gay and set in the bedsit world of 1950s London - is called Nothing but the Truth (Cape, pounds 9.99). If Quentin Crisp had been more macabre and less given to aphorisms, he might have written books like Lock's. They exist in the same postwar Chelsea milieu as Crisp, with the same odd cast of characters: vampish lesbians, foxy widows, tired intellectuals, psychotic young men and venerable old pansies.

Nothing but the Truth is the story of "mildly successful novelist" Jason Callow, who lives on his own after a marriage bust-up. He labours deep in a cloud of inertia and creative self-doubt - a cloud barely perceived until the very end. For despite his depressing subject, Lock engages an army of vigorous linguistic techniques that give a sheen of energy to a story about death and stasis. Beneath a dated, Anthony Powell-type comedy of manners lies a spirit more akin to the darker Dickens. The scene where one character is found dead and the London fog swirls outside seems sourced in the terrifying death by internal combustion of Krook in Bleak House. There are also nods to European novelists (Kafka, Tabucchi): these are unusual components to what would be a dowdy Hampstead novel were it not for Lock's brilliant, sinister delivery and his disturbing narrative voice.

There's an interesting voice at work, too, in I Must Confess by Rupert Smith (Hamish Hamilton, pounds 9.99) - a funny and engaging satire of a working- class boy who becomes a model in the Sixties, a bisexual pop and porn star in the Seventies and a sitcom giant from the Eighties. It poses as a celebrity autobiography wearing PR trousers. Imagine a conflation of the careers of Terence Stamp, David Bowie, Kenny Everett and Adam Faith, and you get some idea of the ground covered. The insane Day-glo narcissism of the fictional Marc LeJeune (christened Mark Young) is evident from the word go, and the story rattles along with a kind of deluded brio. From bowel health to sitcoms in 30 years, we leave our hero pondering his role as an Aids patient in an ER style drama - since, of course, he has managed to avoid Aids himself. But perhaps this too is a piece of PR deceit...

More PR and self-deceit occurs in Alan Wall's Silent Conversations (Secker, pounds 9.99), the story of another failed writer who this time has ended up in advertising. While Jack Goodrich dreams of his one novel being filmed by the Bresson-style French arthouse-director Miro Pelikan, and broods over his first calling as an archaeologist, he is recruited into the promotion of a singer-songwriter called Toni Inglish, who has a strange vortex effect in his life.

But going nowhere should always take the shortest route. The long songs, the pseudo-Jack Goodrich novel extracts, the fake "Bresson Notebooks", the obscure archaeology sideline: all these are so many clogging weeds in the story. Lock's Chelsea windowbox, rampant with deadly nightshade, or Smith's vases full of plastic tulips, are much more decorous and interesting than Wall's wilted nettles, presented as prize-winning blooms.

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