Not the Booker – a motley collection

This is part of the pile that has been waiting for me to read this year’s Man Booker Longlist, which I haven’t finished yet. It includes an American epic, a thriller which did not thrill from a consummate spymaster, a couple of domestic novels and a novel that is about Lockerbie but never actually says so.

scan0003So to start abroad: The Son by Philip Meyer. If you ever want to know how the West was won, or even if you are fully conversant with this American epic story and have watched all the films and read all the books, if you are the remotest bit interested in how America lost its First Nationals, lost its wild life and lost its integrity then this is a book you should read. The land is Texas, before the oil fields, though these come eventually; it is the history of two families who start as neighbours and end in a bloodbath…along the way and through the eyes of people who took part we travel through a changing landscape, from log cabins to nodding donkeys. Greed, hate, love, longing: it is all there.
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Then to the new John le Carré A Delicate Truth. This is less a thriller than a political drama, a drama that involves subterfuge, deniability, threats, and a long supressed operation which went horribly wrong. There are shady politicians, naïve diplomats, and a couple of people who think that the truth matters and who go after it at great cost – and I suspect, though this may be unfair, that Mr le Carré got bored with it, this is so much less of a book than say, The Constant Gardener and ends predictably and suddenly. Read this on a train journey…

scan0001The domestic dramas are Last Friends by Jane Gardam and Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley. Neither of these writers should need any introduction, they have between them written over 26 books, Jane Gardam writes fiction for children and non fiction, Tessa Hadley writes novels and short stories. Last Friends is the final novel in a trilogy that began with Old Filth, followed by The Man in a Wooden Hat. It completes the intertwined stories of two men Edward Feathers and Terence Veneering, both at the Bar and of their little friend Fiscal-Smith, whom nobody had ever quite liked but who stuck, as we discover, like a burr right to the bitter end. The great men have died, and only Fiscal-Smith and Dulcie, the grande dame of the village where both men had ended up, less embittered now they were no longer adversaries in the Courts; neighbours sparring over the Chess Board.
Clever Girl is very different. It harks back in a way to Lynne Reid Banks and The L-Shaped Room, though set in the 1970s. Stella tells the story of her dreary home life, first with only her mother and some aunts, then with her step-father whom she dislikes. She falls in with Valentine who deserts her, she drifts into a commune in Bristol, she has babies by different fathers and altogether seems somewhat feckless. But stay with her, she is clever and interesting and receives fortune and tragedy with a calm stoicism that is admirable. Set in and around Clifton and Bristol this is a readable and engrossing book.scan0004

scan0002So finally: The Professor of Truth by James Robertson. You may know already that I am an admirer of James Robertson, his writing is poetic, graphic and beautiful. This is all of those but also rather a puzzle. Though it never explicitly says so, it is clearly about the Lockerbie Disaster. Alan Tealing, the professor of truth, has lost his wife and daughter in a bombing which brings down a plane over a Scottish town. Twenty five years later, he is still searching for answers to the question of who did this? He does not accept the verdict brought by the courts. Then on a winter’s day, when the snow is deep and it is freezing cold, a complete stranger walks up to his house with an address, the address of a man who may have an answer; who may indeed tell the truth at last…

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