Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of First Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of First Novels

Article excerpt

The Little Green Man by Simon Armitage (Viking, L12.99, pp. 256, ISBN 0670894427). Simon Armitage is a poet who, once upon a time, said that he would never write a novel. Now he has. `The Little Green Man' of the title is a jade ornament, a childhood trophy that turns out to be worth a mint. During the course of the book, Barney, our narrator and the owner of the green man, gathers his erstwhile school chums and embroils them in a game of dares that soon turns nasty as the stakes are high: the green man.

Armitage deals with specific moments memorably - Barney's army brother's pyromaniacal anger burning him and his friends out of their tree house; the jettisoning of childhood and memory out of the boot of a car over a cliff; Barney encouraging his autistic son to read out headlines from the Sun. There are also passages of idiosyncratic and impressive description. On visiting a coastal resort Armitage writes:

For dinner we bought two giant cones of chips, and ate them on the front, surrounded by a posse of vast, plug-ugly seagulls with nicotine-coloured beaks and dinosaur feet.

The Little Green Man has more than one twist in its tail and it got me turning pages. But it was the excellence of the prose and the psychological acuity that I really enjoyed and still had me transfixed at the end.

The Nose by Elena Lappin (Picador, L14.99, pp. 240, ISBN 0330371169). The Nose is the title of a Jewish magazine that the main character, American-born Natasha Kaplan, edits. This is a subject Elena Lappin should know something about: she edited the Jewish Quarterly for three years. Unlike the Quarterly however, The Nose is a magazine with a menacing history bound up with a group of people connected to Theresienstadt concentration camp. There is Franz Held, the late founder and a former editor; Ludwig Hoffmann, a silky old man who wants to give the magazine a big cheque but with suspicious motives; and Natasha's own mother, who refuses to tell anyone anything about her past. Natasha needs to turn historian before she can conscionably accept Hoffmann's much-needed cheque. She decides to write a biography of Franz Held, and discover why her mother is testifying in London at the trial of a well-known Nazi film-maker. But it is the present she has most to fear from; the less complicated fact of editing a Jewish magazine that means she is menaced by a brutal anti-Semitic group with S and M overtones. …

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