erasing clouds

Book Reviews (Sam Bain, Stewart Home, Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh)

by Anna Battista

Sam Bain, Yours Truly, Pierre Stone (I.M.P. Fiction)

"Dear Marie … my name is Pierre Stone and I'm one of your biggest fans": hands up you cinema, TV or music celebrities who have never received such a letter from a crazy fan. There are those who ask for a signed photograph, those who ask for a letter and those who will start stalking you, taking their admiration for you to a dangerous level and probably trying to kidnap or kill you in the end. Pierre Stone, the simple minded main character of this novel is, unluckily for the celebrity he admires, all of these three things. Created by the mind of Sam Bain, who took inspiration from a letter his mother received while starring in a sitcom, Pierre is, at the beginning of the book, an average fan, with an obsession for the TV shows or gossip magazines on which his beloved star Marie appears. He leads an ordinary, but methodical, life shattered by his mother's death, an event which will cause quite a few changes in Pierre's life. Readers might think, by reading the first pages of Bain's novel, that there is nothing new here, but, slowly and gradually, almost without realising it, they will discover that the novel will take a twist and the letters will subtly become more maniacal till reaching a scary climax and an even more scary anti-climax. Pierre, whose real name is actually Paul, behaves in a way like BS Johnson's character Christie Malry, who portrayed as "a simple person," reveals himself as being much more dangerous to the world than the people around him might have ever expected. You're warned: Yours truly, Pierre Stone only looks like an innocuous book, it's actually a thrilling psychotic tale. Avoid reading it if you're even slightly famous.

Stewart Home, 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess (Canongate)

"I am a machine condemned to devour books," reads the Marx quotation that opens this novel by Stewart Home. And nothing could have been more apt to introduce us to the main characters of this story. Set in Aberdeen where Anna Noon lives and studies, the novel recounts Anna's sexual experiences with Alan, a man with an incredible library and a ventriloquist's dummy. After meeting Alan, Anna's life turns into a journey through Alan's books and a trip through the various stone circles that adorn a Scottish landscape that will consequently become the scene of their nomadic sex. Schizophrenic and perverse, the novel is probably also the best book of criticism on contemporary literature that you'll ever find around right now: Alan's passion for books will indeed become a wonderful excuse for digressions that go from Trocchi to Marx, from Duncan McLean to Jane Owen without ever becoming tedious or monotonous. Home, better known for his collections of articles and essays on modern times and for being a proper wind-up merchant founder of the fake Glop Art movement, has finally written not his best hoax, but his best piece of fiction.

Alan Warner, The Man Who Walks (Jonathan Cape)

Author of what the late critic and journalist Elizabeth Young described as "two of the best novels of the nineties", referring to Morvern Callar and The Sopranos, Alan Warner finds himself in his fourth novel once again immersed in a reality distorted by imagination and symbolism. The Man Who Walks is nothing more than the trip of a guy, namely The Nephew, through Scotland looking for his uncle, also known as The Man Who Walks, who has stolen the money of a kitty. But the search for The Man Who Walks, a mysterious character with a passionate love for whisky and the weird habit of collecting newspapers to build papier-mâché tunnels in his own house, will soon oblige The Nephew to meet on his way a bunch of psychopaths going from a British Rail trolley girl who's just escaped with her trolley to a decadent aristocracy with a fondness for Black Magic. Fear not, anyway, this is not a didactic novel, it's just another journey of discovery penned by Warner, a journey that will take The Nephew to face his "personal Culloden" and fight for survival, and will take the readers to face the truth: Young was right and Warner is one of the best contemporary writers around.

Irvine Welsh, Porno (Jonathan Cape)

In one of the first interviews with Irvine Welsh that came out on The Guardian in 1993, Trainspotting was seen as the novel of the contrast between the renewed and fancy city of Edinburgh and the by-now decadent Leith, with its Central Station in ruins. Welsh claimed he imagined the new Edinburgh as a "ghost train roaring through a ghostly Leith Station, fizzing with streamers and champagne, rocking past platforms lined with skeletons". But now ten years have passed since we first got acquainted with Begbie's violence, Sick Boy's irresistible but flawed charm and Spud's drug-fueled ranting. Not to mention Renton and his "Choose your future. Choose life" mantra that soon became the hammering refrain of a successful film and was even printed on silly T-shirts. And now they're all suddenly back: Irvine Welsh's seventh novel, Porno, is indeed a trip to Trainspotting-land ten years after to discover what has and has not changed: Simon "Sick Boy" David Williamson has become a Leith pub owner, but preservers his fake charm and is still talking in his head with Sean Connery; Renton is a club owner in Amsterdam; Begbie, whose "heid" as usual is "fucking nipping", has just got out of prison and seems not to be able to fit in his old world; Spud is still the usual loser, perennially lost in a drug-fuelled universe of his own, his only reasons for life a wife (and a readers' old acquaintance), Alison, and a kid. The problems start when Simon turns entrepreneur and, joining forces and ideas with Terry "Juice" Lawson (of "Glue" fame), decides to start shooting a professional porn movie, with a little help from an all new cast of characters among whom film student Nikki Fuller-Smith will emerge as the new porn starlet, but this new adventure will of course involve Renton who's back in town with his own ghosts of the past. Though there's a short trip to Cannes to allow the movie Seven Rides, directed and produced by Sick Boy, to be screened at the Adult Film Festival, the main action of the story is set in Leith, a Leith which is going through the same "rejuvenation" process that involved Edinburgh: the place is being rebuild in a fantasy land for yuppies and posh types, a location that inspires Spud to write a book about the old Leith, Lexo to turn the antiquities shop he shared with Begbie in a Thai café (causing massive confusion in poor Begbie's head who thinks it's a "tie café"…), and Begbie to fear the change when he meets down the Walk white kids sporting dreadlocks and posh types with fancy cars ("Who ur they fuckin cunts? They urnae Leith. Whaire's aw the real gadges now?"). Porno is a movable feast of cocaine and hard porn: the book seems to be a swan song for Leith, but not for Welsh's characters, who, even in the last page of the novel, seem to discover a new force and a new meaning of life, to keep on moving. "Ye never go back. Move on," Sick Boy mumbles towards the end of the story and perhaps soon Welsh will move on and leave his old acquaintances behind. Perhaps. For the meantime, he's happy to be back in Leith-land and you can bet that also his readers will be.
{ www.irvinewelsh. net,}

Issue 11, October 2002

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