Focusing by Vickery Turner (Gollancz, £8.95). This is Vickery Turner's first novel in which she draws on her own experience of suburban journalism and, in telling contrast, high-life in California. These provide authentic backgrounds for her lively theme. Alexandra Pike's quest for the truth about her uncle Ban, a family legend, leads her into some amusing and intriguing by-ways. Uncle Bart was a photographer, Alexandra's husband is a film star, and the process of the book's investigation flickers and blurrs like an old movie as we join the search to bring the shadowy figure into focus. An entertaining read.
To Stay Alive by Linda Anderson (Bodley Head, £7.95). We might be forgiven if the news bulletins from Northern Ireland with their repetition of death and destruction begin to lose their impact — perhaps we have supped full of horrors and become inured. This novel will reawaken us to the tragedy and bitterness that involves everyone in Belfast and just will not go away. Linda Anderson has written a brilliant novel of divided loyalties and the selfdisgust of the conflict in which the ex-seminarian, Dan, now a medical student, reluctantly helps the IRA while his desperate young wife finds a strange release from her struggles with poverty and prejudice in an affair with a British soldier. There is no special pleading in this novel, only a heart-rending sadness. With all its brutality and frankness, it needs to be read.
Present Times by David Storey (Jonathan Cape, £8.95). The title says it all in this latest novel by David Storey — all the contemporary issues — breakdown of marriage, decline of "proper" education, mental illness, middle-aged redundancy, the ambivalent aggression of feminism — are here seen through the eyes of the patient and well-intentioned Frank Attercliffe. His basic goodness and engrained morality leave him helpless in the face of the tragi-comic turmoil of his domestic life. The wry humour occasionally bubbles over into farce, but it is left to Wilkins, Frank's neighbour and a strange choruslike character, to sum up the future as "bleak, but promising". David Storey is an optimist, and an excellent novelist.