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Theyve started and Ill finishRed-Rose Chainby Jeffrey MooreWeidenfeld Nicholson 1299 pp392Goneby Helena EchlinSecker Warburg 10 pp230The Virgins Knotby Holly PayneOrion 1299 pp303This is my final monthly round-up of first novels My first selection two years ago included Helen Dewitts remarkably fresh and original tale of an intellectual prodigy The Last Samurai high points in between have been Nuala OFaolains My Dream of You and Accidents in the Home by Tessa HadleyThe past weeks have brought out mostly volumes that seem to advertise their novice qualities Talent is rare and skill oddly taken for granted by the general crowd but rarest and most precious is a writer who can not only tell a story and create characters that will keep us company for life but who actually has something to say Reading through these contributions has been like going to a recital at your childs piano teachers You wont get real music because the baby practitioners have no sense of shaping or interpreting but you expect notes in the right orderThe only one of this months choices to take a definite attitude humorous or any responsibility for shaping character and narrative is Red-Rose Chain by Jeffrey Moore Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1299 pp392 which got good reviews in Canada and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize Its a bit high-concept for my taste - its premise is that a randomly chosen encyclopaedia page has been the determining factor in the narrators life - but the characters are likable it has no pretensions and above all its tone is confident amused and amusingThough the Page as it is called is its high concept this is really a story of the seemingly doomed courtship of a feminist lesbian Milena by Jeremy Davenant a Canadian professor of Shakespeare in translation who is so unconscious in his sexism that one can hardly believe he lives in the present day But then his upbringing is rather penny-dreadful Victorian with an unknown
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