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Fiction

THE NAVIGATION LOG. By Martin Corrick. Scribner pound;16.99.

This well-written first novel is a tale of identical twins, balancing the brothers' obsessions (planes and poetry). It starts slowly but repays perseverance as the Second World War cuts the boys' youth short.

Soon Tom is a fighter pilot while William tries to teach at Liberty Hall, a progressive school where Masterman, the head, responds to the threat of invasion by leading pupils on a pilgrimage into the line of fire. The "evacuees" travel by gypsy caravan and have no gas masks or ration books, but shelter, bacon-and-egg breakfasts and "appropriate educational activities" are made to appear, and idealism flourishes in straitened circumstances where Masterman's taste for naturism is a minor hazard.

Corrick's ear for dialogue, from the "ragged verse" of the officers' mess, to the Liberty Hall pupils writing their own rulebooks, to Masterman's briefings for his hapless underlings ("I'm terribly busy," he tells William, "perhaps you can negotiate with the abattoir about the other donkeys."), adds humour and pace to the account of parallel lives in the realms of earth and sky.

The military regime that makes Tom's daredevil flights possible seems far removed from Masterman's kingdom of the free spirit, but the fate of the individual in each world is startlingly similar.

THE KISS. By Joan Lingard. Allison amp; Busby pound;15.99.

Cormac's obsession has left him behind; now his problem is a pupil's obsession. A would-be sculptor turned art teacher, he is suspended after being accused of behaving inappropriately with 15-year-old Clarinda on a school trip to Paris; his wife leaves him; he ends up running a sandwich bar; his teenage daughter, Sophie, is behaving strangely.

The novel measures the context of Cormac's unfortunate but avoidable predicament against Gwen John's unrequited passion for Rodin; the temptations of Paris against retribution in Edinburgh; artistic freedom against social pressures. Cormac's roots in Northern Ireland assert themselves to subtle comic effect through phone calls from his aunts and scenes from his childhood, which again show duty at war with self-expression.

Lingard makes easy judgments impossible as she unmasks the frailties of the accusers (Clarinda, her mother, the headteacher, the wife) and is equivocal about apportioning blame. Most teachers would conclude that there are many excuses for Cormac (too many bossy women in his life, the flattery of an ardent pupil's intensity, the pressures of crowd control in the flea market), but none is good enough. His pupils and his daughter are adolescents acting as adults; he has missed his adolescence but can't catch up in term time.

But Cormac would no doubt agree that he's in the wrong job, and Lingard shows us in the telling glimpses of Clarinda, Sophie and their peers that adolescence isn't the same in your forties.

GERALDINE BRENNAN

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