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Allan Cameron: On The Heroism Of Mortals (Vagabond Voices)

'Perhaps human acts are never pure, and always the product of varied and sometimes contradictory impulses," muses a political commissar in the Red Army as the consequences and, yes, contradictions of revolution unfold around him.

In this collection of short stories, Allan Cameron focuses on the clash of ideas and perspectives, from the domestic to the world-changing. A woman raised in a single-parent family is hectored by her dinner host, a married father, who wants to impress upon her the superiority of his domestic arrangements. Meanwhile, in more upmarket surroundings, a scientist struggles to make sense of his acquaintance's lack of "intellectual coherence" in adapting to changes of circumstance.

The Hat and Living With The Polish Count make the most immediate impression. In the former, a teenager desecrates a treasured heirloom, and his incomprehension as to why this should upset his mother hints at not just an insensitive phase of adolescence but a generation gap even time might not close.

The latter is based on a love triangle superimposed on to the Russian Revolution, in which the narrator's ex-girlfriend, a former aristocrat who has joined the Revolution, finds that the ghost of the idea of nobility still lingers, even in the Red Army. Cameron catches a moment of flux here: without historical hindsight, his characters have no way of knowing if their opinions will become part of approved orthodoxy or are dangerously heretical.

Sometimes the views are so extreme that they are held by a minority of one, like the man who poses as a statue in Glasgow city centre but, far from being a simple street performer, believes he's the harbinger of a new age. We could all more or less agree he's insane, but what about the narrator of the opening story, who presents himself as the author of the book we're about to read? He's an outsider, certainly, but mad? Where do we draw the line between mere difference of opinion and complete detachment from reality? On The Heroism Of Mortals is buzzing with questions like these, a stimulating, restlessly intelligent collection.

ON THE HEROISM OF MORTALS

Allan Cameron, Vagabond Voices, £8.95

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