February 14, 2014 6:51 pm

‘The Days of Anna Madrigal’, by Armistead Maupin; ‘Andrew’s Brain’, by EL Doctorow

The Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin, Doubleday, RRP£18.99 / Harper, RRP$26.99, 288 pages

 

Armistead Maupin first wrote about the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco, in a newspaper column in 1974. Now, 40 years on, The Days of Anna Madrigal is the ninth and last chronicle of the Tales of the City series of novels.

Barbary Lane is long gone, colonised by the city’s new rich – “stockbrokers live there now”, as Brian Hawkins says. And while many favourite characters (Mary Ann Singleton, for example) make only fleeting appearances, fans of Barbary Lane’s landlady Anna Madrigal will not be disappointed. Now 92, Anna persuades Brian and his new bride Wren to take her on a road trip to exhume the last secrets of her early life as Andy Ramsey, son of a Nevada brothel keeper. The result is a proper Maupin-esque swansong – flawed, moving, funny and obscene. We expected nothing less.

Review by Isabel Berwick

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Andrew’s Brain, by EL Doctorow, Little, Brown, RRP£12.99/Random House, RRP$26, 208 pages

 

“How can I think about my brain when it’s my brain doing the thinking?” says (or thinks) the narrator of EL Doctorow’s virtuoso new novel, Andrew’s Brain. “So is this brain pretending to be me thinking about it?”

Andrew, a cognitive scientist who seems to wreak havoc wherever he goes, recounts the story of his life to an unknown interviewer – a shrink or possibly even a voice in his head prompting memories. We learn of the death of Andrew’s child with his first wife Martha and the death of his second wife Briony. Along the way, he muses on everything from memory and love to Plato’s Cave and DNA.

Doctorow – a winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, among other prizes – has written a sort of Portnoy’s Complaint for the brain. Funny, thought-provoking and profound.

Review by Carl Wilkinson

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