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  • Kings and criminals

    The Observer /Guardian (UK)
    May 30 2004

    Kings and criminals

    Dan Neill and Jane Perry on Gilgamesh | Stump | The Good Doctor

    Gilgamesh
    by Joan London
    Atlantic Books 7.99, pp256

    The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world's oldest known work of poetry. It
    tells the story of King Gilgamesh of Uruk and his heroic travels
    through Mesopotamia around 3,000 BC. Joan London's award-winning
    novel Gilgamesh is, in its own understated way, no less epic or
    heroic. It tells the story of Edith Clark, a young Western Australian
    farm girl, and her journey from Australia to Armenia via England in
    search of Aram Sinanien, the father of her son, at the outbreak of
    the Second World War. London's prose is measured but tender,
    capturing the essence of the novel's diffident, romantic heroine. Her
    polished narrative fragments offer sharp and fleeting glimpses of a
    past that often seems to span millenniums rather than decades, as if
    she had retrieved and lovingly restored the ancient clay tablets on
    which the original epic was inscribed.

    Stump
    by Niall Griffiths
    Vintage 6.99, pp228

    It would be unfair on Niall Griffiths's considerable talents to brand
    Stump Welsh noir. It is so much more than that. But the story invites
    the label. A one-armed alcoholic Liverpudlian goes about his daily
    business in a small Welsh seaside town - shopping, gardening and
    visiting friends. Meanwhile, two inept criminals travel south from
    Liverpool to wreak violent revenge on their quarry - a one-armed man
    living by the sea in Wales. Things often have a habit of colliding in
    Griffiths's novels: the ancient and the modern, the mythic and the
    real, the magical and the mundane, the poetic and the prosaic. In
    Stump, the craggy peaks and urban squalor of north-west Wales form
    the backdrop to an elemental battle being played out within the mind
    of the sometime narrator, as he struggles to come to terms with his
    dismembered body, his alcoholism and his murky past.

    The Good Doctor
    by Damon Galgut
    Atlantic Books 7.99, pp215

    For the majority of its citizens, post-apartheid South Africa is not
    the utopia that was once promised. Lawlessness, disease and
    corruption have poisoned the democratic dream. But for Laurence
    Waters, a young white doctor posted to a decaying rural hospital, the
    chance to change society for the better is still a reality. His
    disillusioned older colleague, Frank, finds Laurence's optimism
    chafing, but Galgut's beautifully understated and moving novel,
    shortlisted for both the Booker and the Commonwealth Writers Prize,
    shows how these states of belief and despair, both personal and
    political, slowly come to achieve a kind of equilibrium and mutual
    comprehension.
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