These British books may be difficult to find in the U.S.

June 6, 1996
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

LONDON - It's nice to know that our own local writers are selling well in Great Britain. Stores here at the end of May were carrying stacks of "Blue Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson of Davis. "Blue Mars" is the final book in his science fiction trilogy, a "future history" on the terraforming of the red planet.

Robinson says his British publisher is more efficient than his American counterpart, hence the book was available in British bookstores nearly two months earlier than in the United States. I know, because on a recent trip to England I bought a copy and lugged it home. Robinson will sign it on Friday, June 21, 7 p.m., at Bogey's Books in downtown Davis.

While in England, I looked for British books that I hadn't seen over here. I have no idea how the international publishing market works, but I do know there are a lot of books published there that we never see on our side of the pond. I jotted down some titles that looked darkly interesting, but I don't know if I'll ever see them in Northern California bookstores. Here we go: This is not a pleasant book but I have to admit to a certain creeping fascination with the subject: football hooliganism. For several months a special unit of Scotland Yard has been on the alert, preparing for this summer's football extravaganza, Euro '96, in which Britain will host the European Football Championships. It's the largest sporting event ever to be held in the UK and it starts this weekend. Before and after the games violence is expected between warring gangs of fans, the most notorious of all being the Chelsea Headhunters. Think of the Hell's Angels, bikes replaced by baseball bats, and you have an idea of what they're like. This is the subject John King has chosen to write about in his first novel, "The Football Factory." It's the story of a sexist, homophobic, racist factory worker so numbed by his life and times that he lives only to inflict rage on others during the weekend.

I also was interested in a brief review of the paperback "A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles" by Mark Hertsgaard not because it got a good mention but because the reviewer in The Guardian dismissed it out of hand saying the one and only book about the Beatles is the indispensable "Revolution in the Head" by Ian MacDonald. Noted.

Likewise, "A Time to Keep and Other Stories" by George Mackay Brown is now out in paperback. It's a collection of short stories set in Orkney - not a location that gets a great deal of attention in America. The reviewer, Nicholas Lezard, says Brown takes sparse and stark details and weaves simple tales with a snap and a twist. He adds: "When Americans write like this we fall over ourselves to pay tribute, and rightly so, but it is about time we did the same without own authors." I don't know what he means, but I'd like to read the book.

The Independent newspaper ran an article by Jan Dalley headlined "Dirty, violent, foul-mouthed love stories: Now women are writing them too" that included comments about Helen Zahavi's "Dirty Weekend," Tania Glyde's "Clever Girl," Linda Jaivin's "Eat Me," and Louise Doughty's "Crazy Paving." The gist of the article was this: Don't be shocked because women are now writing the kind of novels that men have always written. A Sunday Times reviewer liked "Stone Kingdoms" by David Parks, about an Irish woman who flees her unhappy country ("the suffocating bitterness of Northern Ireland") only to find herself strangely at home in a refugee camp in an African country split by civil war. "In the north of my country," she explains to an African friend, "people kill each other because they belong to a different tribe."

Then there's "Resistance" by Anita Shreve. The plot is as familiar as can be: An American airman is hidden by a member of the Resistance in German-occupied Belgium during World War II. Wife falls in love with airman. Ho, hum. But the reviewer says Shreve's treatment of this worn plot is remarkable with precise recreations of the freezing landscapes, cravings for scarce cigarettes, and the emotional intensity shared by people living in danger.

None of these books reflects the tea-and-crumpet Britain we usually hear about and see on films. Maybe that's why these struck me as interesting.

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