Books: Independent choice: First novels
Saturday 27 September 1997
And yet there's an Achilles's heel. Asher is haunted by the querulous voice of his dying father who may have died because Asher's amorality has denied the older man life-saving medication. It is Asher's inability to distinguish real life from fantasy and extraordinary sexual encounters with his mother which eventually evoke guarded sympathy for this monster. The prose vibrates with a sharp elegance which mirrors Asher's hawk-like single-mindedness.
Rachel King's Alba (Anchor, pounds 9.99) is equally disturbing and original, but the writing glitters less and warms more: as in the lyrical beauty of hairspray glistening like spun sugar threads, or a ghoulish cottage in the wood shining like a candle-lit pumpkin. Alba is a single, albino school teacher who lives with a domineering mother. On several levels, she is trapped.
Dutch, another outsider, of whom no one approves, lives close to "nature" in primitive squalor (or simpicity?) and symbolic freedom. He owes something to Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Alba's magnetic lover, formerly a colleague but now a nature-reserve warden, has been cast out of teaching by the headmaster, using trumped-up allegations of sexual irregularities and designs on pupils.
The tender, painful eroticism in Alba underlies all the surface conventions of its characters. As its heroine moves to centre-stage, within an old- fashioned triangular sexual tussle, the narrative is darkly compelling. The headmaster Kirkwood is, in some ways, as amoral as Asher. He wants to possess and despoil Alba's whiteness. Dutch, on the other hand, wants to set her free - and that's the central tension in this most enjoyable novel.
I am wont to tell my EngLit students that, however dubious the merits of a novel, its background will always enhance your general knowledge. Baby Love (Flamingo, pounds 12.99) by Louisa Young teaches you thoroughly about belly dancing - its origin, functions and sociology. Evangeline is an Oxford-educated former dancer turned belly-dancing consultant, designer and choreographer. She's also a single parent. But the child is not hers. Lily, now three, was born by Caesarean section from the dying body of Evangeline's sister Janie after a motor-cycle accident. The dead Janie is a sort of alter ego for Evangeline as her sister's colourful past gradually unfolds.
There's a lot of implausible Tom Sharpe-esque hilarity (drugging, kidnapping, unlikely sexual shenanigans), but also some quite serious writing as Evangeline copes with the prospect of losing custody of Lily. Yet this certainly isn't sensible enough to be read as a novel of ideas; so it left this reader, for one, feeling disorientated.
Life & Style blogs
Penis size study: what's 'normal' anyway?
Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
Penis size: is there a correlation with sexual satisfaction? A scientific look
Majority of UK women don't bathe or take a shower daily
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
- 1 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Adam Levine's biggest fan had a panic attack upon meeting him, so the singer laid down on the floor to get a photo with him
- 5 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...
£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...
£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...
£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...