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.