First Words Worth Watching; Books: First Novels

By Buchan, Elizabeth | Daily Mail (London), August 23, 2002 | Go to article overview

First Words Worth Watching; Books: First Novels


Buchan, Elizabeth, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: ELIZABETH BUCHAN

IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS by Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury, pound sterling12.99)

IN THE EDGE OF PLEASURE by Philippa Stockley (Abacus, pound sterling10.99)

THE SEAHORSE by Tania Unsworth (Viking, pound sterling12.99)

THE CUTTING ROOM by Louise Welch (Cannongate, pound sterling10.99)

HERE is the latest news for the spoilsports who take a particular delight in pronouncing that the novel is dead. If the four debut works here are any kind of marker, the novel is lustily alive and kicking.

Jon McGregor's publishers must be openly rejoicing for there can be no question that If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things is the work of a burning new talent, as his appearance on this year's Booker Prize long-list confirms.

In a street in a city, one quiet Sunday at the end of summer, the inhabitants are going about their daily lives. At Number 19 a strange, nervous young man is cataloguing his things.

A couple opposite have sneaked upstairs to their bedroom and locked the door against their children. A father with badly burned hands is struggling to cope with his daughter. An elderly man is nerving himself to tell his wife some bad news. A young girl faces up to the prospect of a monumental change in her life.

Music drifts through a window, food is cooking on a barbecue, there is the thud of a cricket ball. By evening, these individual, unremarkable lives - netted up onto the page with an extraordinary clarity, compassion and immediacy - are focused by a moment of awful tragedy.

Do not be put off by the stream of consciousness text, neither by the absence of names for the characters, Jon MacGregor writes like a lyrical angel.

Philippa Stockley possesses a similar feel for texture, colour and mood - albeit with a sharper and blacker edge.

In The Edge Of Pleasure, ageing reprobate Gilver Memmer is a painter and a victim of success.

Feted and enriched too young, he has slumped into drunken obscurity, his artistry and vision dulled by arrowhiskedgance and excess. Now forced to quit his sumptuous Knightsbridge residence, he has taken a shabby flat and prepares to slide into the last stages of alcoholism.

Enter Alice. Quiet, modest, unsophisticated, she is not Gilver's normal fare but love is a strange, unpredictable commodity.

There are plenty of obstacles strewn in the pathway of Gilver and Alice as they struggle towards redemption - necessarily of a qualified sort for the author is no sentimentalist.

If you are prepared to believe in Gilver's brilliance, there is much to enjoy in Stockley's sly, tart mix of sex, painting and mischance, confected with a naughty sophisticated glitter. …

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