SHORT STORY COLLECTION DON DELILLO The Angel Esmeralda (Picador) ●●●●● Is anyone ever truly happy in a Don DeLillo universe? As the astronaut narrator of ‘Human Moments in World War III’ puts it, ‘happiness is not a fact of this experience’. The profundities and quandaries of existence weigh down mightily upon the shoulders of his characters and leave little room for any glimpses of joy. But for the reader, there is

much pleasure to be gained from plunging headlong into the physical and psychological mazes within a DeLillo story and in The Angel Esmeralda we get a taste of his career’s epic span with nine tales plucked from 1979’s ‘Creation’ up to this year’s ‘The Starveling’. If there are any unifying elements to these stories, dislocation and distance are at the heart of them. DeLillo daubs a splash of unease all over ‘Creation’, where we’re never quite sure if we’re in the middle of a holiday gone horrible awry or with individuals who are forced to bide their time before being able to escape some terrible human-made catastrophe. There is dire peril too at the core of ‘The Runner’ with a child snatched in broad daylight, and in ‘The Ivory Acrobat’ as the streets and citizens of Athens recover from the tremors of an earthquake, though in each case, universal fears are distilled through the viewpoints of one or two people. In ‘Baader-Meinhof’, the piece is more about the terror individuals inflict on each other rather than that perpetrated by organised gangs.

Observers of DeLillo’s longer fiction will attest to the severe challenges that he puts before his readers. These short fictions may seem like a convenient way for the casual browser of his previous works to force a way in, but ultimately (and this goes for his characters too) only the fittest will survive. (Brian Donaldson)

SCI-FI THEORY MARGARET ATWOOD In Other Worlds (Virago) ●●●●● A companion to Margaret Atwood’s published science fiction rather than an essential purchase in its own right, In Other Worlds charts the Canadian Booker Prize winner’s relationship with SF from an early age, bringing a welcome clarity and lack of pretension to this most ill-defined genre. Confirmed fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood will appreciate the insights she offers into their creation. But her analysis of classic works, though compellingly argued, feels bitty, with great chunks no doubt appropriated from her unfinished thesis on the subject.

Elsewhere, she reproduces some of her published essays, though it’s worth noting that several of these are freely available online. Regardless, Atwood’s perceptive wit and reappraisal of the likes of HG Wells and H Rider Haggard for the digital age and post-9/11 era are handy primers if you’ve never encountered their work. (Jay Richardson)

HISTORICAL FICTION EMMA DONOGHUE The Sealed Letter (Picador) ●●●●●

‘No corsets, no crinoline’ is the unladylike lot of one who takes up the cause of women’s rights amidst the bustling, vital Victoriana of this reissued 2008 novel. Emily ‘Fido’ Faithfull has matured into just such a shocking character for the times when she meets her old friend Helen Codrington on the last day of London’s summer in 1864, the latter freshly returned from years in Malta with her Vice-Admiral husband. In ‘the Continental style’, though, Helen wears a much younger officer on her arm.

In forensically revisiting the true story of the Codrington divorce, Donoghue tells a tale which

slow-burns with the pace of English reserve but lends sharp insight to each of its players, particularly Fido and her deeply-buried Sapphic desires. Although the headline-grabbing timeliness of Donoghue’s most recent, Booker-shortlisted Room is absent here, her burgeoning reputation as an author is hopefully enough to earn this earlier work a deserved reappraisal. (David Pollock)


The Slap was a major breakthrough for Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas, winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2009 and becoming an international bestseller into the bargain. In the wake of that success, Tsiolkas’ backlist is emerging in the UK for the first time, including this third novel. Dead Europe is an ambitious and skilfully executed work. A very bleak commentary on humanity, it shares The Slap’s nihilistic brutality and while lacking a little narrative drive, it compensates with real depth and resonance. Isaac is a failing thirtysomething Greek-Australian

photographer drifting around Europe, from Greece to Prague and eventually winding up in England, encountering an amoral world of hate, racism and prejudice. Intercut with that are historic sections from the Greek village of Isaac’s family, sections brimming with sinister myth and superstition. Harrowing and desolate at times, Dead Europe is not an easy read, but there is beauty in that desperation. (Doug Johnstone)

MUSIC BIOG THE MIDNIGHT BEAST Book at Us Now (Coronet) ●●●●● ‘We mock the living hell out of stuff for a living,’ claim London pop parody trio The Midnight Beast. Even in this disposable age, simply poking fun at more talented people can only stretch so far before the game is up. Success rarely matches longevity in the field of musical spoofery, though the likes of The Darkness never had the fortune to be at their peak when E4 were desperately trying to clog up acres of airtime with shoddy product.

The Midnight Beast are though, and given their vast internet glory in poking Ke$ha and Kanye, they’ve been granted an ‘Inbetweeners slot’ for six episodes of semi-fictional mucking about. Quite what three hours of TMB on TV will be like is speculation, but filling up a laughter-packed 120 pages has proved to be beyond their powers. Book at Us Now (oh dear) is surprisingly earnest on occasion and woefully unfunny in others; unless obsessive bird-flipping and drawing funny moustaches on photos are your idea of classic comedy. Catch them in Where Are They Now? articles by 2014. (Brian Donaldson)

20 Oct–17 Nov 2011 THE LIST 51