Monday, 31 May 2010

Soulless Hacks & Garbage Heaps

My central beef with genre fiction is its short-sighted view of the human condition. Characters in crime novels are often hard-drinking geniuses whose only ray of sunshine is exterminating the criminal filth that blights the streets. We are deluded into believing there might exist some altruistic alkie surrendering his small quotient of happiness so other people can sleep safe in their beds at night, pretending crime isn’t everywhere.

This is a misleading hoax. More likely, the character would become an alcoholic and lose his job. He’d either rehabilitate himself after months of intense therapy (at his own expense) and then go to work as a store detective, or he’d hurl himself off a bridge.

I am personally insulted by genre authors who refuse to acknowledge the utter pointlessness of existence. As writers, we have a duty to lift our readers from the meaningless drudgery of their everyday lives and reassure them that comfort is to be found mooning the cosmos on a daily basis and drinking in pleasure wherever we can find it.

I started writing when I was teenager as a means of understanding the world. To me, the practice of day to day life seemed patently absurd, and my writing reflected this. I wrote parodies, piss-takes, and assorted hysterical rants as my means of comprehending the disconnection in my soul between my physical surroundings and my mindset.

I took enormous comfort from this, and as I grew into a mildly disappointing misanthrope, I found it impossible to function without writing as my means of expression, my means of understanding. So characters refusing to acknowledge their status as valueless pawns on a loathsome planet are cardboard deer and I spit on their antlers.

When genre writers refuse to confront the desperation of the everyday in their works, they are soulless hacks whose work is not even fit to grace the top of a garbage heap. Thank you. And yes, I’ll take that hug now.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

My Month in Novels (May)

Aside from fending off those families of warlocks and gargoyles, forever baying at my door, I have been reading muchly.

This month has proven one age-old adage to be true: all writers named Gilbert are geniuses. Now, I’ve only read two writers named Gilbert, but that’s two more than you, so there. And I know G.K. Chesterton is named Gilbert, and was no slouch in the brain department, so that’s further padding for my theory.

This month I read five books by
Gilbert Sorrentino, whose work I find softly disquieting (as opposed to loudly quieting). He is a fabulous (and sadly deceased) bruiser of American experimental fiction, and penned works of wit, bitterness, verve and beauty.

I read
Aberration of Starlight – an astonishing work which offers four perspectives on a romantic tryst that drives a family to madness. Using fantasies, letters, interviews, and isolated flecks of narrative, he captures the tension of 1930s Brooklyn with brutal precision. Along the same lines is Red the Fiend – a darkly hilarious tale of a child brutalised by his wretched Grandma.1

Steelwork offers snapshots of WWII Brooklyn in a more pastoral manner, displaying feats of linguistic and narrative mastery this writer has noted for future ‘influence’. Eh-hem. Splendide-Hôtel is a novella that defies explanation – it is an elegant, outstanding rumination on poetics, narrative and the artist, but warmer, wittier and worthier than that sounds.

Less successful was Sorrentino’s debut novel,
The Sky Changes, but even godlike geniuses need to find their feet.

The other Gilbert is
Mr. Adair. His novels are frothier fare, sure, but his books are clinically original, and I find the contrast between these two Gilberts sublime. His novella The Death of the Author, which tips more than a hat to Barthes (a huge fez, perhaps) offers a character who is killed by his own literary theory. The Dreamers was made into a controversial film and involves incest, cinema and nudity in Paris, 1968. Nice.

A Closed Book, which was whiffily adapted into a movie, is a fabulous suspense novel written entirely in dialogue. It tips its hat (or fez) to the Evadne Mount novels Gilbert has been writing recently. You can tip your fez precognitively, I’ve tried. Buenas Noches, Buenos Aires is Gilbert’s take on the AIDS pandemic, set in Paris among a cast of ludicrously promiscuous gays. Rather Carry on HIV Positive, mefound.

I read Gilbert’s collection of essays and musings,
The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, which overegged the parentheses but was otherwise thoroughly entertaining (and wildly dated).

Non-Gilbert reads this month included
Christian Bök’s attempt to infiltrate the Oulipo, Eunoia. Top marks go to Graham Rawle’s collage novel Woman’s World, which innovates and dazzles, and which also helped my sister recover from her bedridden downtime. Thanks, Gray. I also got through Tom Phillips’s Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel. It was interesting.2

A second non-fiction book muscled its way in this month in the form of
Mike Barnes’s biography of Captain Beefheart. Normally I couldn’t care less about the lives of musicians, but Don Van Vliet was a mercurial talent who worked in a series of media with splooshes of skill, and so demands to be described.

The Burned Children of America is a short story collection that introduced me to some new talents, among them Julia Slavin, George Saunders and Stacey Richter. Most illuminating. I already know about Janice Galloway, but I didn’t know quite how brilliant her shorts were. The shorts in Blood are formidable shorts indeed.

And now. The duds. The moment we’ve been dreading.
McSweeney’s 26 was an unbearably tedious literary stew, offering a handful of dreary stories on two cheap flipbooks. I’ve decided that McSweeney’s is a visual and artistic triumph, but the actual writing they publish is often so foot-stompingly banal I want to strangle Davey.

I don’t particularly admire the work that comes from the McS camp – to me it reads like a movement based around bland realism. Stories about real people written in disaffected, smug prose. Bah.

Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch is possibly the worst novel I’ve ever read – an outrageously bloated slab of philosophical waffle presented in an incoherent order which invites readers to scrounge for a single comprehensible sentence. You won’t find a book with more references to maté3 on the planet.

Also disappointing was
Jonathan Lethem’s Girl in Landscape, though I’ve no idea why I’m reading Lethem as sci-fi genre-hopping isn’t my bag of literary swag. Thank you and go away.


1. It also happens to be Lydia Millet’s 8th favourite book.
2. Phillips painted over an old novel, isolating one or two snatches of the original text.
3. A stimulating milky beverage made from dried evergreen leaves.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Therapy, A Partial Rant & Stupid Facebook Ads

I’ve been listening to relaxation CDs lately. See, the writer cannot be at war with the world without inheriting a certain degree of anxiety. I find the calming zombie voices lulling me into a partial coma help me cope with the ills of the world. So whenever I watch another genocide in Africa, I picture a giant waterfall and suddenly everything is OK. Sometimes.

However, I am troubled. See, whenever the soporific voice puts me in my calm, happy place – a book shop in paradise – I find my centre of tranquillity infiltrated by Abby Koons.

Who is she? Well. She is an agent who appears in the Facebook ad “Does She Like Your Book?” Clicking on the link takes you to the “PageToFame” website where for the sum of $9.95, a ‘professional’ – i.e. a semi-literate gimp – will tell you that the first page of your novel is a heap of festering donkey turd and to stop writing at once. I know that already. Why do I need a woman with spaghetti bolognaise on her head to rob me for the privilege?

However, this is only the beginning of an even more horrendous nightmare. Soon, a band of accountants are ransacking my novel, assessing each word on its market value. They arrive in the night, strap me to a chair and interrogate the first page of my MS:

Word #1 – You = “Not bad start, not bad start. Addressing the reader. But if you think for one minute you can get away with a novel in SECOND PERSON you got another fink coming! Value, 15p.”

Word #2 – Remember = “What? Don’t make the reader do any thinking in the first sentence, you muppet! The reader doesn’t want to engage his brain in the VERY FIRST SENTENCE! Value, –18p.”

Word #3 – That = “Thass better, sonny. Stick to the simple words. Don’t go asking things of the reader. Value, 10p.”

They tell me my first page will make a net profit of minus £400, kick me in the shins, and tell me to stop writing and go back to being a rentboy. I am no longer in my calm and happy place, but on the floor in a pool of my own tears, self-harming with a pencil sharpener.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of annoying FB ads, I HATE the one that reads: "The Next JD Salinger?" This ad endeavours you to prove your writing acumen based on imitating some literary hasbeen and paying their band of pyramid scheme weasels four billion bucks to read your YA novel about a troll that can’t stop farting. GO AWAY.

It seems the publishing world no longer has any shame in merely wanting stories that bankroll China. They want authors that are like past authors who have made a shitload and who deliver sellable CACK. More to the point, who wants to be the next JD Salinger? Eww, eww and triple eww.

Calm and controlled. Calm and controlled. Calm and controlled. Calm and controlled. Calm and controlled. Calm and controlled. NO. HATEFUL AND HUNGRY FOR VENGEANCE!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Words That Sound Good Together That Also Sound Like Band Names

Draught waltzers. Gnomic hopscotch. Blind motor. Cooler bishop. Loquacious tea. Fortuitous amp. Balleric vamoose. Skein frump. Bumbling ork. Calligraphic zoo. Swallow buffer. Ensorcelled neep. Monotone yurt. Balustrade hemp. Flâneur tinnitus. Mephitic quim. Vermicular roo. Oafish grumps. Titular bungle. Oligarch corn. Amanuensis fricassee. Czar knickers. Heartbreak igloo. Transducer schism. Aqualung bromide. Neurotic loam. Loofah baguette. Swizzle limp. Archangel conjunct. Hauteur kink. Balloon skirt. Malleable rooftop. Jugular critic. Blew hullabaloo. Ostrich volt. Olive turnpike. Foxtrot mackintosh. Pineapple antelope. Pony sander. Groovy fixation. Elfin weir. Pillar shine. Moon biography. Cup scolded. Milk finesse. Iodine cottage. Catkin arrow. Xylophone stool. Braided blowjob. Vortex asking. Sunshine wildebeest. Jaded knee. Thirsty housemartin. Buttercup battleaxe. Mildew rosebud. Flew cuspid. Cyclone thatching. Cowbell anchor. Porridge drawbacks. Eiderdown clottage. Alpaca porn. Artery spear. Juniper aloof. Ice-cream planet. Telepathy knuckles. Buttocks majestic. Blue potato. Philippic ouch. Sorry penis.

P.S. My story Socklove is in the latest edition of colorful magazine Feathertale. I'm not sure if I mentioned that last time, but the self-promoting budgie within me feels compelled to bring it up.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Books That Don’t Make Sense

What strange wasps of creative madness buzz inside the brain of the experimental novelist? What makes those risk-taking maverick heroes of fiction reach such heights of indulgence that their texts become unbearable to read, almost impossible to assimiliate?

As someone who attempts awkward feats of differentness with varying degrees of success, I’m always ultra-conscious of going so far as to alienate, infuriate and depress the reader. See, readers are the most fickle beings on earth. I should know. I am one.

When a reader doesn’t understand something in a book, a flaming wall of hatred is erected at once between themselves and the author. How dare the author write a complicated metaphor referencing four hundred Greek texts! How dare the author write nine hundred pages in Esperanto! How dare he kill the ornithologist with the cute bum!

See, I have come up against such hate. When I used to write nonsensical stories on the Urbis workshop, people were so outraged by the absence of meaning in my work, I went into hiding. My mate Salman took me in and gave me a sympathetic hug and lemon squash. It was tough.

Then, when I grew up a little, I encountered novels written in wildly experimental ways. When I read Perec’s La Disparition (A Void in English) at 20 or 21, I was outraged that someone had sentenced the E to alphabetical exile. I cried for days at this E-strangement. I couldn’t work my way through the book, since my readerly foundations had been shaken to the core. I was being ruffled in a terrifying way, not the nice way with feather dusters.

Eventually, I re-read the book. I didn’t fully understand it, nor did I find the E-lessness particularly effective, but it opened me up to endless possibilities of frolics to be had in my own writing. The linear mediocrities of previous fictions could be consigned to the dustbin. A new future was before me! Stories written in spaghetti! Stories told backwards, at the wrong angle, on the ankle of an albino spinster! Stories that danced around the point of telling a story, that didn’t involving having to disclose any real emotions! Bliss!

The question then arose – is there a threshold of experimentation for contemporary writers? Finnegans Wake is too much. There won’t ever be another Finnegans Wake, and anyone who tries to write a 21st century Finnegans Wake will be laughed from the building and doused in sneery phlegm.

The evolution of the experimental novel has, in a sense, been an act of devolving from Joyce’s unreadable second opus to a more palatable mixture of the obscure and the accessible. We still want texts that entertain us, but we love to have a creative thumb shoved up our rumps.

Recent texts I’ve read on my MA Course have helped me to ponder this matter. Essentially, the experimental novelist, like the rock band launching into that 20-minute solo, the child stealing chocolates from the tub, will do whatever they can get away with before the audience cracks. If they are in a position to get away with unlimited outrageous hijinks, they will exploit it and run giggling.

Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew is an example of a book that is indulgent, overlong and sometimes unreadable. For the most part, though, it is hilarious, original and very reader friendly. This one straddles the line between gross indulgence and reader accessibility in the most harmonious way I’ve seen yet.

On the other hand, a novel like Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch represents the sort of experimentation I revile – that which panders to an elitist readership and squanders its originality for arrogance. In this novel, chapters can be read randomly, though no devious plot ingenuity takes place, and the author misses his chance at extreme cleverness. The same could be said about B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates (which I liked).

In terms of an obsessive singularity of style, I’m opposed to gross excesses. Recently, I read Todd McEwen’s Who Sleeps With Katz. It’s narrated in a garbled New York idiolect which made me want to self-harm. Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is impressive but requires study notes to be understood. Nicola Barker’s Behindlings breaks down into gibberish around page 200.

I say the best experimental texts, and it pains me to say this, do have their eyes on a commerical market. Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts is a readable thriller which wears its experimental influences on its sleeve. House of Leaves isn’t readable but its USP that it is the most experimental novel ever written in history, ever, wow, look at what I’m doing!

OK. Blog done. I’m now going to be very predictable and abandon any proper conclusion, and break off in mid-se

Friday, 14 May 2010

Writing For Short Story Contests

The Task Before Me:

Hello every writer in the world. I am a nameless representative from an underfunded arts council somewhere in an English-speaking country. We are currently accepting entries for our short story contest, themed around the invention of the pie crust.

If you have a short story between 2 and 2365 words about how bakers first kept pastry in an oven at the correct temperature to produce a crispy rim around a delicious pie, we want to read it.

We prefer sci-fi slasher stories set in Chiswick revolving around shoe assistants named Phil McSmiddy who live with their mothers and worship alt-rockers The Breeders, though we are open to other ideas (within reason). Send submissions by Morse or carrier pigeon to where we are. All submissions sent by mail or email will be napalmed.

This contest costs £28,030,928 to enter, payable only by a cheque written in blood paid into the Thurso branch of Dodgy Dick’s Private Bank. The contest is sponsored by Ad’ah Hukan Bahbad, deputy leader of Al-Qaeda. All proceeds go to suffocating children

The Task Begins:

So. I have my instructions. I sit down to begin this story, the writing of which will cost me fat white bucks. I am paying the nameless representative for the pleasure of writing this story and submitting to his illustrious contest. Well, it must be illustrious, what with Richard Hammond on the judging panel and everything. OK. I take tablets to quell my raging spleen and start again.

I decide the subject matter is atrocious. I can’t possibly write a story with this tedious prompt, and doing so will be pointless, my story unreadable drivel, deleted instantly. I cry and take my self-confidence pills.

I start again. I pen 2000 words of pedestrian prose about Phil McSmiddy, inventor of the pie crust. It isn’t startling. It isn’t staggering. It isn’t the sort of dazzling new voice that wins Granta awards. It doesn’t burst from the page with vibrant originality, knocking the current crop of Granta bitches from their pedestal with its wow-this-is-the-best-story-in-the-fucking-universe brilliance.

It is good, readable, entertaining prose. No more. I cry again and take more medication.

I decide it needs more of an emotional angle. Stories that win contests have to be about human suffering cranked up to the max and characters surviving these bleak times. I rewrite the story from the perspective of Phil’s Lebanese torturer, replacing each fourth word with a staggering metaphor about the blackness of humanity. I proofread, weep, proofread some more, then send it out.

Four years pass. I am living in a small croft in Norfolk bogtrottrer country, surviving off mud and grass pasties. There is a knock at the door. A dwarf dressed in a poop-covered toga speaks: “I AM SORRY STORY BEEN UNCEESFUL, GOOBYE.”

That’s that, then. On to the next contest!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

How I Came Into a Stupendous Sum of Money

It’s 3AM and I’m huddled in a doorway in Leith with three palsied wasters, begging Ian Rankin’s butler for interesting story ideas. “Just one plot device, man!” I plead. The grizzled old fart looks us over and shakes his head. “Come on! You gotta give us somethin’ to get through the summer!” we beg.

He ain’t takin’ none of our shit. He used to write novels himself and knows chancers when he sees them. “Get off ma doorstep, man! You should be ashamed of yo’selves, beggin’ out here when you ain’t got no green. Come back here again and I’ll set the dogs on ya!”

So we scamper from the doorway, bereft of ideas, hopelessly prowling the streets for tinges of Ian Rankin’s essence. I capture a few fertile aromas and scribble down a plot idea – the killer is a bestselling author with a penchant for naming his books after Rolling Stones albums. Genius. I run from my fellow authors and pen this masterwork at once.

Granta purchase the story for £4 and a complimentary kick in the shins from handsome and well-hung editor Alex Clark. It seems I am safe for the summer. I can coast along on variations of this idea – the killer is a musician who writes books, or an author and musician who hates books, or is a character in book himself (haa, how post-bloody-modern!) Then I receive a phone call from Ian Rankin.

“You scheming thieving little bugger,” he begins.
“Who is this?”
“You know who I am. I write the incredibly popular Inspector Rebus novels. It was made into a series starring the formidable cheeks of Ken Stott. I am Scotland’s King Crime-Son,” he says.
“Was that a bad pun based on the band King Crimson?”
“Never mind! You nabbed the idea I was going to use in my next 45,737 books! Where did you get it from?”
“Your essence, Ian… my nostrils wafted your essence on the streets! I’m sorry.”
“I need to speak to you. Meet me in a car park tonight.”
“Which car park?”
“It doesn’t matter.”

So after an evening spent trawling Edinburgh’s car parks, I meet him at last at the NCP on Thing Street. He looks resplendent in his navy-green tutu with matching pink pumps and ballerina costume. I think it best not to mention his special apparel.
“Look,” he says, applying his lipstick, “I want that idea back. Take this package filled with money and move to Argentina.”

Sooo... I write this from my hotel in the Cervis De Riza where Julio Cortázar’s butler oils me up for my weekly massage. He rubs me gently on the calves, limbering me up for my "added extra" with Madame Maurice.

Let this be a lesson to desperate authors everywhere. The essence of success is out there, waiting to be sniffed. Cheers!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

McSweeney’s Acceptance Criteria

Having read a few McSweeney’s issues now, I’ve noticed a frustrating similarity in the material they publish.

At first, I thought it was my anger or envy gene kicking in. Sometimes, during my
manstruation period, I dislike everything I read, hate everyone I meet and banish everything I write to the eternal wastepaper basket. Right now, this is not the case. Despite the looming gloom of a Conservative government, I have been feeling chipper lately.

Just yesterday I permitted an urchin to tickle my sense of indignation. That shows how chipper I am.

So permit me to explain the problem using an alphanumerical system of bi-dividers. Here are the qualities that would seem to comprise the McSweeney’s Acceptance Criteria:

a) Sardonic Wistfulness

Characters in McSweeney’s look back on their Important Life Moments with detached slacker irony. They make the significance of those moments explicit without resorting to sentiment. Stories must resolve around one or more Important Life Moment (usually a death or family separation) and balance the emotional weight of this moment with humour or a turn of phrase that captures that unbreakable love (barf) perfectly.

Meandering Structure

Something happens at one moment in time. Then we go forward in time to another moment selected presumably for its significance or profundity. Then we keep skipping forward. Or backward. Or a character does this and does that but gives us no indication of when or why. Stitch these vignettes together in a vaguely coherent bundle for McSweeney’s success!

Flickers of Amusement

Sad to report, but McSweeney’s isn’t particularly funny. Perhaps its slavish devotion to quirky indie Americanness doesn’t help much. Dialogue is where the humour lies. Sometimes. It’s achieved either through explicitness (swearing or references to sexual acts) or gentleness (observational humour), though is light on wit for something so subversive.

d) Thick Curds of Morality

Oh yes. You are also allowed to write stories about moral concerns – wars dividing communities or various nastinesses in the world that expose man’s fundamental sickness. This isn’t a bad thing. But often we only keep reading the stories because we are too shocked to stop.

e) No Experimentation

Nope. Linear narratives written so six-formers can understand. No tricksiness or interesting typographical whims. Unless Mr. McS says so (and he doesn’t say so very often).

America Forever!

These stories ooze America. Americanness seeps from every vowel and consonant. So, cram in as many references to US products or TV shows for maximum McSweeney’s success. If your story isn’t American, then the spelling will be altered accordingly. Don’t dare write anything that wouldn’t work in an indie movie with Steve Carell.

Thus concludes my grumbles. Don’t get me wrong – McSweeney’s is still a thing of beauty and should be loved for its innovation. However, they need to shoot the editorial staff and bring in some fresh blood.

Otherwise, I suggest changing the name to McSnoozy’s.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Why Stephen King in McSweeney’s is AGAINST THE LAWS OF NATURE

Imagine my dismay. I borrow the handsomely packaged McSweeney’s #27 from the Writers’ Room and take it home to my boudoir. Instead of three hours of athletic intercourse with my Dutch supermodel girlfriend, I decide to read this glorious tome. “No, Famke,” I say, “put those luxurious bosoms away. Tonight I am reading the greatest literary quarterly on Earth.” “Go screw your hand!” she fumes, leaving me at once.

So, I snuggle up nice and warm and I read the first four stories which enchant and beguile and irritate me in that way we McSweeney’s readers adore with a passion. And then… I arrive on page 121. And what name do I see before me? Yes… STEPHEN KING.

Stephen ‘I can write five novels in my sleep’ King. Stephen ‘who needs proofreaders when you have nine houses?’ King. Stephen ‘I’ll take £300K for my next novel and toss in a few Persian slave brides while you’re at it’ King. What is this one-man capitalist pig doing bedizening the pages of McS with his SHIT?

And I mean this quite literally, for his story, ‘A Very Tight Place’ (what a title, Stephen! How many Pulitzers would you like for that?) is a scatalogical outpouring of ordure not fit for the lowliest bum-wiper in Henry VIII’s court.

The protagonist (generic homosexual based on what Stephen images the gays must be like) finds himself imprisoned in a portable toilet (ha-ha-ha-ha, oh Stephen, you are SUCH a cheeky muffin!) after a feud with a neighbour (Random Resentful Bastard With No Motive #109).

And so… for the next sixty pages in MCSWEENEY’S (the supposed benchmark of literary excellence and America’s trailblazing short story compendium) I have to read about a cardboard gay tunnelling through shit so he doesn’t have to die of starvation in a portable toilet. How apposite, Stephen! Could you be making a self-deprecating remark about we readers? Oh, ho-ho-ho! You ARE funny.


Shame on Dave Eggers. Am I to believe Stephen was actually PAID for his contribution? If he donated a special wing to one of Eggers’s education centres, I might forgive him. But I doubt that. I suspect King saw McSweeney’s and said: “Hey, that looks hip and cool. I want to get in that. Here’s something I wrote when I was stoned at Charlie Sheen’s mansion. Toss that off to the urchins, my current secretary.”

My final plea:


Saturday, 1 May 2010

My Month in Novels (Apr)

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! What romps I have had this month! This month, what romps I have had! I have had what romps this month? Let me explain. Stop interrupting. Tut tut, Marie-Jane. Have thee no discipline?

I was in Monaco watching the Belgian Grand Prix when Jenson Button sidled up to me. “Mark,” he said – he calls me Mark, though I do prefer Cutie Bum-Bums when we’re in public – “what be ye reading?” “Jenson,” I said – I call him Jenson, because he resents me calling him Fluffy-Nip-Nips in public – “shut up, would you? I can’t hear the race.”

Between you and me, I began the month reading
The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. I shouldn’t have done, because it transpired that Calvino’s bizarre cosmological fables bored me rigid for four days straight. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have read 400 pages of the buggers. Though I do hate to abandon a book once I’ve started, sweetie. You know how it goes. “No they don’t!” says Jenson. Shut up.

Book #2 didn’t turn out too well either. I told this to Jenson in the hotel room later that night. “Jensey, baby,” I said – he prefers this moniker in private – “I’ve finished reading
Indignation from American bruiser Philip Roth. I thought it was badly written tish and piffle.” He was in the shower. “What?” he shouted. “I SAID, I THOUGHT IT WAS BADLY WRITTEN TISH AND PIFFLE!” “Whaaaat?” “Oh, never mind.”

Easter break happened. I went trekking with Jenson up the northface of Knockbain. (A reference racing fans might understand). I decided to wrestle once more with
Martin Amis. I had been undecided for a while whether his fiction was worth bothering about, having had mixed responses to his ‘classic’ novels. I read London Fields which I found entertaining in a ‘Mart, you’re trying waaaay too hard, but you are funny’ sorta way.

Then I read
Other People. Oh dear. The third stinker of the month. What a plodding snoozefest that turned out to be. On the plus side, it was around this time I discovered the music of The Muffs, who are now the Greatest Band in the World. Jenson agrees too. Don’t you? “Yes,” he says. “I love Outer Space.”

During that one hot hot weekend we had in Caledonia, I reconnected with
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, which I hadn’t read, but I had experienced through the dashing TV version with Ted Danson. A marvellous classic and a feast for the ocular bits in the skull. “Eyes!” says Jenson. Yes, thanks Jensey, baby. I am quite capable of basic descrip-de-ma-callit, thankyaverymuch.

For light fun I read
The Deeper Meaning of Liff – a book of fiendishly clever words for things there aren’t meanings for yet. Word lovers seek out this gem from Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.

Good news! At last! I found myself reading
McSweeney’s! Hurrah! I began with Issue 25 (plucked at random from the Writer’s Room at Napier) and reacted favourably. A week or two elapsed and I read Issue 27. I also reacted favourably! Yippie! I am excited because I had previously been wary of the potential smugness that could have surrounded America’s most esteemed and offbeat literary quarterly. But no. Thumbs-up from me. “And me!” And Jenson.

HIGHLIGHT of the month goes to the Evadne Mount trilogy – a series of Agatha Christie pastiches from
Gilbert Adair (the man who translated Georges Perec’s La Disparition into English). And Then There Was No One was a mouthwatering postmodern treat. Fabulous ideas executed with wit and originality and everything else.

The other books,
The Act of Roger Murgatroyd and A Mysterious Affair of Style, were none too shabby either – high calibre paeans to classic sleuth fiction written in sparkling prose. “I liked them too,” Jenson says. Oh, how we tolerate our lissom lovers, don’t we?! “I’m not lissom!” Shut up, Jensey, baby.

OK. Other books I read. Yes. I got around to reading
David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas which turned out to be five excellent novellas and one rotten stinker bound together in the form of a novel. A dazzling and original work, I think not, though certainly an admirable one.

I read
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by the wonderfully named Ken Kalfus. This is a bitter and darkly humorous novel about a couple separating in the aftermath of September 11. Yes. Sounds a riot, but it was an engaging and human read, despite the synopsis. “What does that mean? A human read?” Jenson asks. I mean it was compassionate, not heartless. “Well, SAY THAT THEN!” Shut up, Jenson!

Almost done. “Thank God!” I also managed to squeeze in
Todd McEwen’s Who Sleeps With Katz. I had expected better from Mr. Lucy Ellmann, but this torturous experimental Noo Yawk novel was a pitiful end to the month. Oh how it draaaaaged on! I needed comprehensive pitstopping with Jenson to overcome this sorrow. “Do you mean anal sex?” YES, Jenson. ANAL SEX. There, I said it. HAPPY NOW?

“Yup. Goodbye, folks. See ya next time. JENSON FOR PRESIDENT!”