Dreams & melancholy
William Palmer

Meet Me In Mozambique
by EA Markham
Jonathan Cape

EA Markham is a poet, writer of short stories and novelist. His new book is - well, what is it? Publishers say that the British dislike short stories, but not to worry. These stories nourish and feed off one another to such an extent that the book reads more like a kaleidoscopic novel that tells, in various voices and from different viewpoints, the lives of Pewter Stapleton and his family and friends.

Pewter is 65 years old, a writer and academic not looking forward to retirement from his students, his "harem" of 20-year-olds, to be "cast out, perhaps for ever, among people his own age". But this melancholy is reserved for the end of the book.

Until then, we have a feast of memory and invention, from his childhood on the Caribbean island of St Caesare, to life as a young man in Ladbroke Grove and visits to the pleasures of Budapest, Lampeter and the South of France.

St Caesare is a close, fictional neighbour to the volcanic island of Montserrat, where Markham was born in 1939, and which he left to come to England in the 1950s.

Pewter's mother, who is recovering from a stroke, remembers their life on the island and puzzles about her son, who has passed all sorts of exams but doesn't seem able to do anything practical.

Pewter's own memories of childhood on the island - brandy given to treat toothache, his gang called the Heathens, a boyhood dream of going to a place called China - are followed by the description of an actual trip to China, much later in life. Its purpose is to promote the game of cricket to the Chinese.

In "A Pigeon in the Fishpond", Pewter and his old friend and rival Michael Carrington jostle for position in telling a story, writing each other in and out. Two unreliable narrators - postmodernism gone mad? But it is all so deftly handled that when Pewter books a ticket to Mozambique to track down a man who turns out to be a fictional character, we can only wish him a good journey and a friendly meeting.

This is a very funny and sometimes moving book, its deadpan wit embedded in almost every line. For the past 14 years, Markham has been the professor of creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. I hope that his students know how lucky they are to have him. William Palmer's novel.

By arrangement with The Independent