A poet, with a self-help guide already published on alcohol addiction, Anne McManus has written a brainstorm of a book. Set in Sheffield and London, I was a Mate of Ronnie Laing (Canongate, pounds 8.99) describes life on the streets at its most dangerous and degraded. Charlie - in an earlier life Dr Charlotte McCloud, like McManus, an ex-academic - survives with three women friends, just. They beg, steal, starve, get drawn into abusive sex and sometimes dry out for a day or two.
R D Laing's seductive condemnation of the conventional family has provided the narrator with her excuse for self-destruction. Paradoxically, it is a mate of the late Dr Ronnie's, a Jewish psychiatrist, who convinces her that there are compromises to be made. He rescues Charlie; she recovers and works at a drop-in centre for addicts and the mentally ill. Not an easy read because the line between autobiography and fiction is blurred, this novel succeeds through its inventive use of language. It's literary, dirty and full of jokes; typically, it parodies Molly Bloom's soliloquy and ends on a defiant "No". The energy and bite of the prose echoes Alasdair Gray's.
Lucinda Roy's Lady Moses (Virago, pounds 9.99) introduces an ambitious writer whose work has great emotional force. It begins with a daughter at her mother's deathbed; the narrator Jacinta, looks back to her childhood and celebrates her larger-than-life parents, Simon Moses, an African scholar and poet, and pretty blonde Louise Buttercup. The three of them live in a beat-up house on Lavender Rise, Battersea, described in discriminating detail, as are the disgusting Beadycaps, who rent the rooms downstairs and various eccentrics such as ex-actor Alfred. Jacinta's world is secure until her father dies. After a struggle, Louise Buttercup breaks down and the little girl is pitched from children's home to foster mother and back again to Lavender Rise.
Education provides an escape route. The story sees Jacinta flourishing at London University, marrying an American, disastrously, and, at last, travelling back to her father's village in Africa. There are many strong themes in the novel, which is really two or three books log-jammed into one and often flawed - but what richness!Reuse content