THE HOLLYWOOD DODO
Serpent’s Tail, 11
The sublimely good Geoff Nicholson’s new novel is an absolute treat. A mild-mannered English doctor accompanies his daughter to LA and becomes involved in murder, pornography, real-estate and a film about the last surviving dodo. The disparate elements of three plots are knotted and woven with consummate skill, and the prose is as laugh-out-loud funny as ever. "I suppose you’d have had to call the style mock Tudor, but the mockery had reached a level of hysterical taunting," is just one of the gems in this elegant, exceptional novel.
Also try: Jonathan Coe, The House of Sleep
Having tremendously admired Baricco’s Lands of Glass (certainly as much as his bestselling Silk), I was looking forward to this novella. Unfortunately, it is slight in substance as well as length. It opens with a young girl being spared by one of her father’s murderers, and picks up again much later when she has tracked him down. Although it raises spectres of Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman or The Night Watchman, it lacks their sense of tortured, complicit ambiguity. Its minimalist style seems at odds with the explicit ‘telling’ of psychological states.
Also try: Kerri Sakamoto, The Electrical Field
Sir Walter Scott
Edinburgh University Press, 30
This ‘lost’ book by Scott comes much trumpeted. It was ‘suppressed’ by his publisher, though ‘rejected’ might be more factual. Under a fictional guise, we have half of a guide book to Abbotsford (the chapters on the grounds and curios being unwritten). There is some charm, but more evidence of Scott’s failing powers, and the editors choose not to situate the work in the context of Scott’s penchant for self-parody (no mention, for example, of his own severe review of one of his novels). Nobody will realise the genius of Scott through reading this sad bagatelle.
Also try: Alexander Pope, The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus
THE INVENTION OF MOREL
Adolfo Bioy Casares
NYRB Classics, 7.99
First published in 1940, this wonderful novella begins with a political refugee stranded on a mysterious island where groups of people in old-fashioned clothes appear and disappear, dancing obliviously in a raging storm and complaining about the cold when it’s swelteringly hot. Gradually, a gothic fable about illusions, reduplications and virtual existences plays out, with an ending of unforgettable poignancy. The images are as strange and disconcerting as a Magritte painting. This masterpiece has not dated in the slightest.
Also try: Nigel Dennis, Cards of Identity