Soupy Twists: Fry and Laurie biography will be devoured by fans

Browser reviews: Short stories from Louis de Bernières; the origins of dislike; a moving Shetlands novel


Soupy Twists!

Jem Roberts
Unbound

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are (or were - they've now gone their separate ways) arguably the most sophisticated comedy double act in Britain. And also perhaps, the most loved. Theirs was a most harmonious relationship on and off stage and screen. It was love at first sight, though not of a sexual nature. As this is an authorised biography, scandal mongers will have to look elsewhere for their fix, unless the wild, hilarious behaviour of their great friend Emma Thompson when they were all up at Cambridge, does the trick. Each of the men had little in common apart from the gift of making the other laugh but their individual talents blended beautifully. Fry was the shy one and above all craved honesty - witness how he was almost charged with Irish blasphemy. Laurie (perhaps to our surprise) was obsessed with rowing for Cambridge in the boat race which he did, only to be beaten on the line. If you are a fan of this duo, you will devour this book. Those less enthused may wish for a deeper insight into their true personalities.
Owen Dawson

Labels and Other Stories

Louis de Bernières
Harvill Secker, £16.99

The title story in this anthology tells amusingly of a man who bankrupted himself collecting cat food labels and then enriched himself by making pâté with the cat food. Gunter Weber's Confession revisits characters and scenes from the author's hugely successful Captain Correlli's Mandolin. Two stories have Turkish settings. In The Turks Are Wonderful With Children, an English couple leave their only child, who behaves like a demon, to be reared in a remote rural Turkish village. The other, A Day Out for Mehmet Erbil, shows how two strangers from different countries can come to understand each other even without a common language. Stupid Gringo, set in Bogotá, amusingly sends up the silly stereotypes Europeans have of a crime-ridden Colombia. Many of the stories are set in Latin America. Our Lady of Beauty captures the essence of South American rural village life and Two Dolphins is suffused with South Amerindian folklore. Andouil and Andouilette is a hilarious tale involving an elderly couple, some Hell's Angels and two gendarmes. This wonderfully diverse collection from a master storyteller is to be savoured.
Brian Maye

The Valley at the Centre of the World

Malachy Tallack
Canongate £8.99

When elderly Maggie from the valley in Shetland dies, something is extinguished along with her: "It was a thread of memory that stretched back for as long as people had lived in this place. It was a chain of stories clinging to stories, of love clinging to love."

This chain of narrative is what this beautiful novel brings, both through the links that bind characters to their past and future, and through the island which is birthing from an old world into the new. Each person suffers the push and pull of internal change too: bereaved writer Alice who attempts to document the valley; Sandy, sore-hearted with a heavy legacy; David, a shepherd all his life, now witness to a community that demands an infusion of new blood.

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A moving, elegiac novel, it's pithy with the Shetland dialect, rooting the writing in the earth. More than a sense of place, the valley is its own character, you are left with the taste of the land in your mouth: reading it feels like an inheritance.
Ruth McKee

The Origins of Dislike

Amit Chaudhuri
Oxford University Press

"In art, love of life is a kind of polemic, a kind of argumentation". In this collection of critical essays - novelist, poet and academic Amit Chaudhuri brings both love and polemic to a set of nuanced and occasionally shocking essays on literature and culture. Written in a careful, thorough manner, Chaudhuri probes difficult theoretical, historical and literary questions. What separates poetry from thought? Can creative work be argumentative? Can writers offer anything but a testimony of their own writing? Drawing on an inimitable knowledge of various texts and traditions, Chaudhuri embarks here on an impressive set of essays which are delivered in an easy and confident prose, deliberating complex ideas in readable, astute language. Chaudhuri explores a theory that the popular reader is an invention of capitalism and explores the commodification of certain narratives and styles by the publishing industry. Although not confined to an exploration of "dislike", Chaudhuri's book calls for a personal canon-building and questioning of tradition that is compelling and exciting. He reflects, "how nice it would be to like the things one is supposed to; life would be so much more comfortable, so much calmer! Dislike, then, is potentially more disruptive than ideology or taste."
Seán Hewitt