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!”


  1. Awh...

    You left out one totally non-literary gem you were planning to browse!

    I was looking forward to comments such as:
    "All the wit of a steaming turd"
    "As cutting edge as a 6x10 plank of sodden oak"
    "Humour so subtle it makes slipping on a banana skin positively intellectual"

    Oh well, maybe next time eh.
    (Or maybe not in public.)

  2. Did you know that "lissom" is the Norwegian equivalent to the English (oh, who am I kidding, the AMERICAN) "like"?
    "Like, how am I gonna explain this? I can't just, like, say it, lissom." (Frequently fun-spelled "lizzom", which is even worse)

  3. Mike: Tsk tsk. I haven't got around to reading it yet. Laziness and self-interest. Should be able to peruse a chapters this weekend.

    CC: That's lizzom, brilliant? At least they have some lizzom, class?

  4. What do you call 3 rhythming words in a row, cos I can think of such a set using Lizzom.
    The first word is gizzum (give me some)...

  5. How about "Gizzom lissom jissom, bissom."

    The last word being colloquial Scots for rogue/troublemaker.

    I'm not sure "jissom" (spunk) can be lissom, but I still like it.