Robert Sproat's flawless command of idiom, accent, and syntax here combines with a nuanced sense of race and class in contemporary London. The result is virtuoso stuff--masterly acts of literary impersonation


Robert Sproat, Stunning the Punters, Faber, 1986.

Nine monologues, each in a different voice, make up this unusual fiction debut. Sprout's flawless command of idiom, accent, and syntax here combines with a nuanced sense of race and class in contemporary London. The result is virtuoso stuff--masterly acts of literary impersonation. Not surprisingly, Sprout's subject is often language itself: failed communication, meaningless banter, silence. And all these narratives rely on reluctant raconteurs of one sort or another. There's the motherless young biker babe of ""Black Madonna Two-Wheel Gypsy Queen,"" a leather-and-spike type who can't quite figure out her brooding intellectual brother or her equally cynical old man. There's the Indian immigrant shopkeeper of ""A Small Difference,"" who thought he was speaking the Queen's English until harsh urban experience taught him otherwise. There's the old Irish construction worker of ""Almost Graceful Like a Dancer,"" who recalls the days when his countrymen brought blarney, not bombs, to London. And there's the boob of a bobby in ""Mistaken Identify"" (that's the real title), a doltish constable whose inability to read people and situations earns him a faceful of spit. If some of these stories seem all anecdote and affect, others expose the timeless truths that often lead to clichÉ (""Memory is a funny thing"" or ""People really do say amazing fucking things to each other""). In the title story--undoubtedly the best--a former skinhead seems to speak, in his thuggish way, for the author himself: ""I like to imitate people, take the piss out of them. . ."" It's also the one reminiscence that results in a kind of linguistic epiphany. Riding with commuters past a wall of trainyard graffiti that he drew in his early days, the narrator frightens himself; he can't believe that a bunch of brainless kids could have pulled a stunt that ""stuns the punters"" (i.e., scares the straights) and Incites hatred. Sproat feels compelled now and then to remind the reader that he's smarter than his narrators--he even puts a line from Wittgenstein in the mouth of a rummy! At his best, he manages to take the piss out of his subjects, and some of the vinegar too. - Kirkus Reviews

Nine accented London stories by a very sensitive and witty writer. At times it is hard to determine whether the focus of these monologues is London life or language itself. Sadly a rare book and an obscure writer. Hopefully more people will read him. - Fernando Sdrigotti

Robert Sproat, Chinese Whispers, Faber & Faber, 1988.

Genghis Khan and the Mongols of the early 13th century came as close as anyone ever has to conquering the known world. Exactly what kind of man was Genghis Khan and how was his rapid expansion achieved? In this historical novel, Robert Sproat takes a new look at the mysteries surrounding this enigmatic character and includes extracts from "The Secret History of the Mongols". Robert Sproat is author of a collection of short stories, "Stunning the Punters".

This tour de force by the British author of Stunning the Punters (1986) pretends to be a collection of historical documents submitted in evidence of that wild-guy from the East, Temujin the Sheperd, a.k.a. Tamburlaine, a.k.a. Genghis Khan. An elaborate fabrication, Sproat's tale of 13th-century world conquest is more about the interpretation of events than the events themselves--a rather dry and academic idea that nevertheless occasions much wit. The legendary warrior, bent on domination of the known world, here comes to life obliquely, through the accumulation of various sources--letters, memoirs, folk tales, a song, a 20th-century lecture on military strategy, a selection from an actual history text, and the last testament of the Mongol leader himself. Also important to Sproat's fictional re-creation are excerpts from ""The Secret Official History of the Mongols,"" here translated at last from its Uighur script. Arranged chronologically, these records follow the Mongols westward through the Khwarizm and Samarkand, north into Georgia and the Russian Steppes, and westward again into Eastern Europe. Both the obviously apocryphal stories and the dispassionate chronicles attest to the superior military strength of the invading ""Tartars from Hell."" A young captain in the Army of Muhamad Ali Shah writes his high-placed uncle warning of the Mongolian ferocity that has been discounted by his immediate superiors; another version of the same battle, told 56 years later, suggests that Khan's attack was the proper response for the slaughter of his ambassadors. Accounts of Khan Subedei and Khan Jede, lords under Temujin, include the grisly details of their methods of torture. Though a Christian missionary falsely accuses them of cannibalism in his report home, he also testifies to their much-vaunted horsemanship. Venetian merchants confirm that the Mongols often sought allies, rather than engage in unnecessary warfare, and they were loyal and generous to their friends. If Genghis' deathbed monologue serves to humanize him, a lecture by Rommell, supposedly given in 1932, on the tactical genius of the Tartars suggests the heinous example their history provides. Sproat's ability to mimic the styles of medieval histories as well as 17th-century Russian folk tales is impressive, but his trite coda (""You can't believe all you read in the papers"") strikes a particularly inappropriate final note. - Kirkus Reviews


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