Hope and memory

HOPE AND MEMORY

Tzvetan Todorov

Atlantic Books, 22

The veteran theorist returns to his archetypal topic - the nature of totalitarian regimes - in this largely disappointing study. Though the biographical portraits are excellent, Tzvetan Todorov’s sensitivity unfortunately seems to have abandoned him. Like the pub bore declaring that all politics are a circle where far Left and far Right merge, Todorov contrasts the black-and-white world of totalitarianism with democracy in a frankly black-and-white way. There is not enough room here to show how his arguments from Locke can be applied to the IMF; nor to sigh sufficiently at the "post 11/9" preface.

Also try: Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx

TRUE NOTEBOOKS

Mark Salzman

Bloomsbury, 15.99

Pulitzer-nominated novelist Mark Salzman really wants the reader to know about all his unpublicised charity work, teaching juvenile offenders that writing will make them feel better about themselves. His hand-wringing liberalism and unrelenting niceness made this reader yearn for the smart-alec back-chat of the inmates. Although at the beginning of the book, Salzman questions his motivations, by the end, getting a poem from a former pupil is offered as moral justification for his endeavours. The author feels better, and the reader feels faintly manipulated.

Also try: John Maizels, Raw Creation: Outside Art and Beyond

THE SEDUCER

Jan Kjaerstad

Arcadia, 12.99

The protagonist of this hefty saga by Jan Kjaerstad is a TV producer whose work has single-handedly stirred Norway out of cultural torpor; a kind of Viking Melvyn Bragg. He is also an expert high-jumper, astronomer, lover and explorer. The novel’s central question - "how do the pieces of a life fit together?" - seems hampered by the reader’s sheer disbelief in this character. Much of the self-conscious ‘magic’ seems like hand-me-down Marquez and although there are some amusing diatribes against Norwegian complacency, they are insufficient to dispel the self-indulgence in the rest of the book.

Also try: Halldor Laxness, The Atom Station

MUSIC, IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Andrew Crumey

Dedalus, 7.99

This re-issue of Crumey’s Saltire First Book-winning novel introduces many of the themes that have come to typify his work: a dazzling postmodernist sensibility, with all the attendant love of games, paradoxes and sly jokes, aligned with a cuttingly humane sense of the ineffability of some emotions: love, sorrow, betrayal. Set in a parallel, post-Communist Britain, the story of physicist Charles and historian Robert, and their author, signals that nothing can be taken on trust by beginning with Chapter 0. From then on in, it’s a play of ideas with frighteningly high stakes.

Also try: Alfredo Galli, The Perils of Nepotism