Life in the West

Brian W. Aldiss, Author
Brian W. Aldiss, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $17.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-88184-570-9
Reviewed on: 01/01/1990
Release date: 01/01/1990
By an author generally considered on this side of the Atlantic a science fiction writer, this novel, originally published in Britain 10 years ago and cited by Anthony Burgess as one of the 99 best novels since 1939, is quite a discovery. One of those rarities, a novel of ideas that is also eminently readable, it centers on Tom Squire, a British cultural historian with a successful TV series on the significance of pop culture. Scenes alternate between Squire's private life, which is falling apart, and a brilliantly depicted cultural conference in Sicily in which he plays a leading role. Aldiss uses the conference to lampoon cultural and political clashes between East and West (somewhat outdated today but still entertainingly realized), and even throws in a superb set piece about the literary role of science fiction. There's a beautifully evoked and moving English country Christmas, some startling and bloody action in postwar Yugoslavia, a rueful romance, an abundance of wit and intelligence. Squire's personality remains slightly elusive, though he's always eloquently thoughtful, and his troubles with his wife are never entirely convincing; but these are the only blemishes on a virtuoso performance. It's difficult to believe that no one previously thought a potential U.S. readership existed for so unusual a book. (May)
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