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The Age


Date: 02/12/2006
Words: 725
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: A2
Page: 25
BOOK REVIEWS: Chart Throb; Rumpole and the Reign of Terror; Emissary; Man Walks into a Room

Chart Throb, Ben Elton Bantam, $32.95

A COUPLE OF months ago, Ben Elton came to Melbourne as part of his international stand-up comedy tour. Among the many targets of his satirical wit was reality TV; the Idol franchise in particular. The highlight of Idol, he told us, came in the first phase - with its parade of untalented and deluded contestants generating the same level of schadenfreude as an old-fashioned freak show. Perhaps, he suggested, the show should run in reverse. With Chart Throb, Elton parodies the televised talent quest at length. There's the bastard judge and the soft touch, the oleaginous puppet-masters and the vapid wannabes they manipulate, and one hell of a lot of stage-managed human drama. Chart Throb could have done with a more sedulous edit but most of it exhibits the satirical genius that makes Elton such a ruthless and perceptive anatomist of popular culture. He has a talent for saying what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed. And if you're a fan of his novels, you won't be disappointed.

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, John Mortimer Viking, $39.95

RUMPOLE OF THE Bailey is back in action again, though his job isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be. With the abolition of the hearsay rule and draconian measures regarding terrorist offences, one of the world's most popular criminal barristers is being buffeted by winds that threaten to blow away the rule of law. And no amount of high-principled rhetoric - one of Rumpole's specialties - is going to change that. His client is a Pakistani doctor detained without charge by the secret service. Apparently, evidence of the doctor's involvement in a terrorist plot has come to light. Not to Rumpole's light, of course - he isn't allowed to see it and must engage in some unscrupulous tactics to obtain a fair trial. Meanwhile, his wife, Hilda, is writing her memoirs in secret and if they come to light Rumpole will be in for a shock. Mortimer and his comic creation continue to go from strength to strength. His wig might be yellowing, but Rumpole's sense of justice is as pristine as ever.

Emissary, Fiona McIntosh Voyager, $33

WITHIN SIX months of completing a popular writing course taught by Bryce Courtenay, Fiona McIntosh had her first publishing contract, and her fantasy novels have come thick and fast since then. Emissary is the second volume of her Percheron series, a fantasy epic loosely based on the great empires of Islamic civilisation. Odalisque Ana - captured and forced into the harem of Percheron - is still lamenting the death of her lover, Spur Lazar, when the young Zar Boaz becomes infatuated with her. Others at court are unhappy with Ana's growing influence and conspire to bring about her downfall. These human intrigues are shadowed by supernatural machinations - the Grand Vizier has been possessed by a demon and Iridor, an agent of the Goddess, roams the land in human form. In the background, war with a rival empire looms. McIntosh writes competent, fast-paced genre fiction, though anyone with more than a passing interest in Islamic history will find this series unconvincing.


Man Walks into a Room, Nicole Krauss Penguin, $22.95

IT DOES NICOLE Krauss the greatest disservice to introduce her as the wife of Jonathan Safran Foer. Krauss is a literary star in her own right - her second novel, The History of Love, is a tragicomic masterpiece. And her debut, Man Walks into a Room - a mesmerising philosophical novel that explores memory and identity - is no less impressive. Samson Greene is a 30-something English professor who is discovered traipsing through the Nevada desert after eight days. Rushed to hospital, he has a brain tumour excised - but develops retrograde amnesia that causes him to lose all memory of his life after the age of 12. In the liberating (and at the same time terrifying) position of being able to rewrite his identity, Samson agrees to take part in an experiment that goes straight to the core of what it means to be human. Originally a poet, Krauss is a writer with a consummate command of cadence and an eye for arresting imagery. Man Walks into a Room is a great novel, and anyone who cares about contemporary literature should read it.

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