Thursday, 31 May 2012

My Month in Books, Part Two (May)

           9. Agnes Owens — Like Birds in the Wilderness

This 86-year-old Scottish grandmother is thrilling! Her debut novel(la) arrived in 1987 when she was in her early sixties (how many writers start their careers at sixty? there’s hope for you unpublished middle-aged hacks yet) and made absolutely no impact on any readers or reviewers, despite being published in hardcover from Fourth Estate. My beef with the realist school of writing is there are usually an orgy of poetical metaphors and worthy descriptions to endure—attempts to lift the ordinary into the hallowed world of the literary, to immortalise in words. Owens does no such thing. Her stories pass like the occasional Volvo S40 on a deserted Highland road. She has no need for the something-big-and-meaningful or the important-encapsulation-of-a-universal-emotion moments that make realist fiction the dreary bore it usually is. This novel concerns an alcoholic bricklayer who gets and loses a girlfriend and his job. And it soars as high as the title suggests.

10. William H. Gass — The Tunnel

The first 200 pages of this novel carry the reader aloft on flowing waves of sumptuous, musical prose: sentences so serpentine and silky, so alliteratively slinky, one’s only response is to ride these dreamy, masterful currents of polished perfection with near spiritual ecstasy. After the first 200 pages (or thereabouts) the novel takes muckier, knotty, horror-packed digressions and balances these with frequent flare-ups of the musical magical waves of Gass pleasure. The book alternates between these extremes for its duration, creating what Colin Pie has called as a “lovely schizophrenia.” Gass’s novel is one the most exhilarating explorations of a vile mind in existence. His use of discombobulating typographical techniques, deceptive comical limericks, utterly immersive internal monologues, the Henry James-strength meaningless and unending sentence, heartbreaking childhood reflections of increasing desperation, blackly humorous misanthropic assaults, pitiful domestic dialogues, and carnal fantasies immerses us in Kohler’s hopeless, heartless realm. This novel is bloated and beautiful. You will loathe it, love it, hurl it across the room, chortle disgracefully, read it compulsively for days and days, wearily skim-read hundreds of pages, spill yoghurt on its spine. One thing is clear: you need The Tunnel in your life. No burrowing out of this one.

11. Raymond Queneau — The Blue Flowers

Queneau’s novels and poetry have found their way into English and have been kept in print by a Reich of mostly American, and several British presses, among them Dalkey Archive, Atlas Press, NYRB Classics, Oneworld Classics, New Directions, Carcanet, Sun and Moon Press, University of Illinois Press, University of Nebraska Press, and Penguin Classics. There are (at last count) twenty books of Queneau’s work in English—a couple out-of-print or expensive—but largely all readily available for your reading delectation. This is both a pleasure and a curse. Twelve of Queneau’s eighteen novels are available, along with six collections of his poetry and two miscellaneous story and curio collections. This begs the question: is there too much Queneau in print?

For a largely unknown (to English readers) “avant-garde” writer, twenty seems like an undue surfeit. There are some writers whose best works are only translated while the duds remain in the original language, meaning we only read the best of their work and clamour for more, unaware the other material doesn’t bear translating as it will only allow us to cast critical light on our beloved hero(es). This is certainly true of Raymond. For The Blue Flowers is a turkey, no doubt about it. (Except so it seems for an absolutely rapturous Italian readership—the Italian translation was done by their national bard Italo Calvino). I wanted this tiresome absurdist rubbish to end more than I wanted Patch Adams to end and my slow Robin Williams-induced death to follow.

12. Nicola Barker — Clear: A Transparent Novel

A novel written in three months during (and after) David Blaine’s infamous Christ-in-a-Perspex-box stunt in London. Barker’s novel is the most entertaining account of this memorable public spectacle that united Londoners in the act of throwing eggs at a man with mental health problems. Clear: A Transparent Novel is an ebullient comic novel written in such bouncy, jack-in-a-box prose, you want to crawl into those pages and live with these cast of cranky oddballs and relive 2003 all over again. (Maybe not the last bit—I was a depressed teenager in 2003. But I still want to live with the oddballs in that rent-free house, please). Barker’s fiction moved almost entirely into the comic realm after this novel (Behindlings was written in the same style with more coastal bleakness), but retains its distinctive power, despite the eccentricities and relentless hiccupping slapstick. I have nothing else to say about this novel so this sentence is redundant. And this one. Me too. (And me!)

13. Nicholas Mosley — Accident

Colin Pie is back with a brand new haircut. Do you like the lime-green streaks? My hairdresser reassured me it was “the exciting thing” (he made the inverted comma sign with his fingers to signify its misleading faddishness) in corporate Britain today. Alan Sugar apparently went for a Mohican last week, proving once again how out of date and redundant his empire is and how the BBC are basically his main employer. Some men can’t be tempted out the boardroom with a cattle prod. It’s sad. But for now I like my blonde and lime-green locks, despite the rumours that eyeball-to-navel piercings will be hot in June. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen—I wear glasses and have diabetes.

1. MJ Nicholls Would Like. To say that he read this novel himself. He’s pleased because he only reads two novels per year, usually written by Dr. Seuss or his wife Nurse Seuss (retro sexism). He admired the narrative’s ‘shorthand’ style, written to flit from thought-to-thought without any clumsy prose padding, but he found this style occasionally repetitive and clunky, especially the overuse of similes (three sometimes in the same paragraph) and liberal use of poetic adjectives. The dialogue too was awkwardly tagged and seemed to hang off the page—the characters (women especially) appeared extremely blank and lifeless. The afterword makes a good case for this novel’s innovation but you get the feeling Dalkey have been overly kind to Nicholas Mosley.

2. Colin Pie’s Fashion Tips. For men: Vaseline all the chest hairs on the left side of your body so they’re pointing upwards. Repeat this on your right side, pointing downwards. This is real turn-on for girls with mental health problems. For women: Headscarves aren’t only for the Queen or East European immigrants pretending they’re still in their villages. The tighter the better. Tie a polka-dotted scarf around your head so your eyes bulge slightly from their sockets. This a real turn-on for male cartoonists. Be sure to catch my new three-part series on clothes made from bits of old cabbage found in bins.

3. Finally. This novel was turned into a film in 1967 with Dirk Bogarde as an Oxford philosophy professor. Yes, really. The novel feels like a sixties relic: crusty upper-middle-class intellectuals chastising the younger generation for their loose morals but totally taking part in all the bed-hopping larks themselves . . . the younger the better! Lettuce works too, in hats.

14. Amélie Nothomb — Loving Sabotage

This Belgian who writes in French, was born in Japan and partly raised in China, writes fantastical novellas usually about precocious children who encounter self-imposed or external hardships in the nasty old world. I read this one for respite during The Tunnel but the choppy sentences and frustratingly twee intellectual humour made me less eager to pick it up. Nothomb claims the story (about a precocious seven-year-old member of Mao’s army who falls in love with a steely Chinese girl) is completely true, which seeing the character speaks at a level of erudition most adults fail to achieve without speedball cocktails, is a somewhat outrageous boast. The novel coasts along on its impish humour and unusual approach to history but lacks the flair for tongue-in-cheek melodrama in books like The Character of Rain (narrated by a three-year-old) and The Book of Proper Names. Also, the cover gives me a headache.

15. Louis-Ferdinand Céline — Rigadoon

Céline completed this final instalment in his trilogy a day before his death . . . so much for that happy retirement . . . this book (and apparently all of his novels) have a fragmented nouveau roman approach: breaking the text into unpunctuated sentences connected via ellipses . . . like this . . . and this . . . to convey the flow of thoughts and speech . . . and to do away with that bothersome process of having to . . . you know . . . polish really good sentences . . . if only Updike had done this! . . . oh he also uses exclamation points more than is healthy! . . . because Céline was not healthy! . . . he was possibly a crazy man! . . . and this book certainly doesn’t help dispel that notion! . . . I should have started with Journey to the End of the Night . . . but this was a mordantly funny and digressive . . . obviously . . . story of how the author fled to Denmark following the war . . . during which he was a Nazi sympathiser . . . as you do . . . and the more I write like this, the easier it seems to be . . . so I am less convinced Céline was a great artist . . . I suppose I should read Journey first . . . did you know if you space you ellipses . . . the way they do in novels . . . that counts as three separate words on Microsoft Word count!? . . . ooh an interrobang . . . a little tip there for students struggling to make up the word count . . . this review was sponsored by Bob’s Periods . . . dotty since 1987!

16. Alison Lurie —The Truth About Lorin Jones

Trounced by my inability to absolutely love every page of Gravity’s Rainbow like I was foolishly expecting (but secretly pleased to be contrary all the same) I decided to read something appropriately oppositional instead, filched from a friend’s mother’s sister’s library. And you can’t get less reliable than a friend’s mother’s sister’s library. Or in this case, you can. This novel boasts more hateful feminists than a backstage at a Le Tigre concert and more oleaginous male chauvinists than backstage at a Garth Brooks concert. The protagonist Polly is trying to write a book on mysterious painter (see title) Lorin Jones (ha, fooled you!) who she believes was ruined by patriarchal attitudes. She later learns this wasn’t the case and she was the absolute bitch. That’s your novel. Quite cunning and quite clever, workwomanlike on the prose level. But better than the first sixty-nine pages of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Monday, 28 May 2012

My Month in Books, Part One (May)

1. Alasdair Gray — A Life in Pictures

Hello, I am Colin Pie, managing director of the MJ Nicholls & Affiliated Pseudonyms Reviewing Experience (MJNAAPRE). Due to a decrease in market share of the MJ Nicholls review (dropping from nine million page views to four) and the reduced volume of likes within the last three months, for a trial period all MJ Nicholls reviews will be written from an entirely fiscal perspective. I will be reviewing this particular item to save on the labour required in sourcing original MJ Nicholls non sequiturs and irrelevant MJ Nicholls wisecracks. The MJ Nicholls reviewing style of large block paragraphs with no spaces will be replaced with a more reader-friendly spacing policy.

1) GENERAL MARKET. This hardcover book of artwork and autobiographical gloss, from an artist known largely for his novel Lanark, will sell mainly to those familiar with his fiction. It will sell to devoted readers of his novels and stories, his semi-popular stage plays, and perhaps to occupants of Glasgow familiar with his distinctive images hewn into the city’s cultural landscape. Its market price, £35, makes it a luxury item among the middle-class Scottish audience in boroughs like Dowanhill and Kelvinbridge. Wealthy overseas patrons of his work might also purchase copies.

2) ASSORTED COMMENTARY. The book is—to use a cliché the reviewing masses will appreciate—a labour of love, covering Gray’s early paintings inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and William Blake, to his most famous mural Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties. It offers a complete retrospective of his large religious murals, his hundreds of portraits, his chunky nudes and his exquisite book covers. The text often interrupts the visual feast of the images, but provides an exhaustive commentary on the work and the context in which it was created.

3) WHO IS COLIN PIE? I don’t know what MJ Nicholls has said about me, but I do not imbibe too much on the weekends. I also did not set fire to my sister’s Renault Espace after a four-week vodka and Sprite binge.

4) PURCHASIBILITY. This is a beautiful collection of artwork from one of the biggest talents of 20thC (and beyond) Scottish art. The work in here is erotic, melancholy, foreboding . . . I’m sorry, but the present budget only extends to three descriptives at present. I also did not eat my nephew’s pubic hair after losing a bet in a pub. I would think, as Leader of the MJ Nicholls & Affiliated Pseudonyms Reviewing Experience, MJ Nicholls would have more responsibility than to spread such scurrilous rumours. So: in brief, if you have an extremely large budget for lavish coffeetable art books, I recommend this pristine hardcover immensely. I am Colin Pie, thank you for skim-reading this MJNAAPRE review. Send any donations direct to my house, please.

2. Lisa O’Donnell — The Death of Bees

Colin Pie here, standing in for the financial liability and tantric lovemaster MJ Nicholls. I received a postcard from him this morning. He says he tried to send me a text message but he was stuck up a hill. I also received a telegram from him this morning explaining he tried to send a postcard but he was nowhere near a post office. An email came through this afternoon explaining he would have sent an email but he wasn’t inside. And while I wrote that last sentence, he was on the phone explaining he would have phoned but he was too busy writing a postcard, a telegram and an email. He’s a scamp.

1) THIS BOOK. A debut novel from a Scottish(?) screenwriter currently trying to make it in LA. Two sisters from a Glasgow housing scheme come home to find their father’s head bashed in and their mother hanging from the ceiling. Afraid of becoming state-funded orphans, they bury their parents in the back garden (skilfully managing to avoid their nosy neighbour Lennie), then carry on as normal, minus their unfortunate betters (inferiors). It’s a magical mix of black comedy, coming-of-age drama, and quirky mainstream fiction.

2) THAT BOOK. Manages to balance the dark slapstick and outrageously laidback attitude towards underage sex and drug-popping with moments of tenderness, intelligence and humility. Marnie is the wild older sister who indulges in hedonistic binges of voddy and teenage penis, while Nelly is her younger who speaks in a clipped English accent and likes Coke on her cornflakes. The novel establishes its own internal reality and logic, so easily bats away criticisms of preposterousness. At its heart it is a gentle book about family, sisterly survival and escaping the oppressive heat of an unfeeling city environment.

3) WHY IS COLIN PIE? I was once accused of stealing a balloon. I never stole the balloon. I simply released it into nature. That didn’t stop the police from stomping into my house, hauling me off to prison. Fools.

4) BOOK. The structure and narrative toggling is somewhat simplistic, spread over a four-month cycle, alternating between three characters. This makes it extremely easy to follow but doesn’t leave room for any ambiguity, mystery or gameplay. All the characters speak in direct first-person prose, occasionally addressing a deceased relative, but what is said is said without any space for the daring complexity of a devious third-person narrator. Oh they can be yummy. Also, sometimes Marnie’s intelligence feels exaggerated so she can speak profound, literary sentences, but you’d have to be an absolute swine to deny O’Donnell this contrivance. I didn’t steal that damn balloon.

3. Frank Kuppner — Life on a Dead Planet

This Scots novel is closer to those vintage American postmodern narratives I love so dear—a sardonic, interrogative third-person narrator describes various nameless characters committing various obliquely delineated acts that question the representation of reality in fiction—than your typical historical yarns about identity, Scottishness and politics. Kuppner’s bad-tempered narrator brings to mind the cranky humour of Sorrentino and Foster Wallace as a clinically depressed young philosophy student. Unfortunately, this writer has a poet’s sensibility, so his quest for the well-turned phrase supplants the lightly metafictional frolics and humour that kept me more interested than the baffling manoeuvrings of whatever whoever on the page is doing . . . if he’s (she’s) doing something at all. (Whatever something means. Whatever means means). A muddled fuddle worth the struggle.

4. Harry Mathews — The Human Country: New & Collected Stories

The other reviews here sum up my opinion on these stories—a few pearls mixed with opaque, impenetrable rocks written largely for Michael Silverblatt. ‘Country Cooking’ is a notable standout: a perfect spoof of haute cuisine recipes. ‘Clocking the World on Cue’ is an insanely clever piece of Oulipo showboating where each sentence clocks up the mathematical values of any roman numeral letters in sentences (i.e. m, x, i) so that each adds up to 2001. Mathews’s writing is extremely stylish and linguistically impossible—he makes no concessions for the reader unprepared to participate in his games. Sadly, if he doesn’t throw the reader a bone, she won’t be that interested in playing. I had this problem with his novels too. The stories in the section ‘Calibrations of Latitude’ were among my favourite. The ‘American Experiences’ I found for the most part too advanced. My last Mathews book? Probably.

5. Wallace Markfield — Teitlebaum’s Window

Wallace Markfield is another voice howling from the void—the void of unloved unread unappreciated now-dead experimental fiction writers too cool for even the postmodern crowd. This novel is a collage of elements: each chapter opens with a list of scenes, kvetchings or moments from the 1930s Jewish Brooklyn neighbourhood the book depicts. Simon Sloan is at the centre of the piece and his story is told in intermittent chapters consisting of diary entries, letters, college notes and extended dialogue-packed pages. The chapters in between cover his family, especially his ultra-Jewish father whose good humour gives way to moments of violent son-hating misanthropy that explode from the patchwork of niche jokes, wordplays and Yiddish terms of disapproval. Simon’s early days with his filthy friends recounting sex stories about their parents provides many chuckles, and the later parts with his various Marxist, insane, anti-Marxist suitors as he shimmies up the social ladder are also written with relentless comic imagination. Not all the chapters lend themselves to the addictive pleasure-filled aspect of the Simon pieces, but the novel delivers an original suckerpunch of howling tittering Jewishness regardless.

6. Agnes Owens — For the Love of Willie

Colin Pie here. MJ Nicholls has ordered me to apologise on his behalf for the diminished reading activity among his team of highly skilled and unpaid book goblins this month. This is due in part to the unveiling of three affiliated MJ Nicholls subsidiaries: 1) The MJ Nicholls Association for Patronising Lectures on Experimental Fiction (TMJAPLEF). 2) The MJ Nicholls Department for Digressive Comedic Reviews with Little Relevant Content (TMJNDDCRLRC). 3) The MJ Nicholls House for Self-Referential Whimsy Over Substantial Textual Analysis (TMJNHSRWSTA). I have been made the CEO of the MJ Nicholls Centre for Tiresome Acronym Jokes That Aren’t Jokes (MJCTAJTAJ), which incorporates TMJNHSRWSTA.

1. Distracting Relevance. This is a novel by Agnes Owens, a retired cleaner from Milngavie, in which teenage girl Polly gets knocked up by a sleazy shop owner. A second narrative told fifty-or-so years in the future describes Polly’s attempts to write her life story in a hospital ward after a lifetime of serious mental health problems. Lean and unflinching prose from this surprising and consistently overlooked talent. This text is part of the MJ Nicholls Repository for Unknown Scottish Fiction of Little Interest to the Predominantly American Goodreads Demographic (no acronym available).

2. More About Colin Pie. I confess, I am looking to establish The Colin Pie Association for More Reviews About Colin Pie (TCPMRACP) within the MJ Nicholls & Affiliated Pseudonyms Reading Experience (TMJNAAPRE). I have secured funding from the Manny Rayner Institute for Technical Reviews About Chess No-one Reads (MRITRCNR) and the Paul Bryant Centre for Short Parodies of Unread Books for Fifty or More Easy Likes (PBSPUBFMEL) and the TCPMRACP should be in operation within four years. (If we secure planning permission from Jeff Daly first. I hear he can be bought).

3. And Finally. Who needs MJ Nicholls anyway? His days are numbered in the current economic climate. When all publishing stops in 2013 and we revert to wartime measures of rationing and water conservation in a desperate attempt to stimulate growth (as opposed to shutting down off-shore tax havens for billionaires), all literature will be an irrelevance. All that will remain are the reviewers pouring over the last two millennia of literature in witty and amusing ways, as predicted in this prophetic review. The Day of the Reviewers is coming—and I intend to cash in! Come get a piece of the Colin.

P.S. This is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

7. Kathy Acker — Blood and Guts in High School

This book was released in 1978, making “post-punk feminism” an apposite description. Not that punk had stopped in 1978 but post-punk bands were already evolving the two-chord assault of the punk sound into something better (or in the case of Howard Devoto or Jonathan Richman before punk even happened). So this hysterical novel chimes perfectly with the nascent post-punk art explosion coming from NY in the late seventies, entwining it with this glorious period of art-school pretention and irredeemable poetry. The novel uses typographical attack weapons (enormous fonts! childish scribblings! decorative borders!) to tell its horrible story of an abused feminine receptacle desperate to free herself from the whoredom of men. Along the way, she meets Genet who also proves himself to be a prick. Tsk. Something of a response to William H. Gass’s potentially sexist typographical funhouse, Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife, perhaps? A perverse relic: mainly dark and funny now, too hysterical to make any longstanding feminist impact. I hate the cover. I feel I’m supposed to.

8. Anne Brontë — The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Tackling Brontëism #2

The second novel Anne wrote before she caught pulmonary tuberculosis shortly after her 29th birthday. Certainly not something on those 100 Things To Do Before You’re 30 Lists. 1) Paragliding. 2) Kayaking. 3) Catch pulmonary TB and die. See? Good. The problem with those lists is they presuppose readers like the outdoors and have a private income of some three zillion units. Far better the lists have simpler aims for us mortals: 1) Eat a probiotic yoghurt. 2) Bumslide down a banister. 3) Help drywall your father’s shed. 4) Post an actual letter. 5) Touch something with a DANGER OF DEATH sign. That sort of thing.

Anyway. Anne’s second novel shows her evolving considerably as a prose composer—if not in terms of style or structure, certainly in terms of content and ideas. The structure is peculiar—the first 100pp concern Gilbert Markham’s attempts to chat up a reclusive new tenant at the titular Hall, before switching to the letters of said tenant, Helen Graham/Huntingdon. This is what we MFA graduates call a fucking huge narrative lurch, but the story becomes far more interesting as Helen’s narrative voice is the strongest (Gilbert doesn’t quite convince as a man) and more rife with intrigue, struggle and heartbreak, etc.

She marries Arthur Huntington despite her supposed intelligence, an alcoholic in remission whose condition returns during his frequent trips to the dens of London. He soon morphs into a monster and Helen’s patience is tested to snapping point, forcing her to flee her fallen hubby. The novel is one of the strongest (and earliest) depictions of the human rights abuses the marriage laws of the period were capable of encouraging . . . by marrying a man the woman was entitled to hand everything she owned to the husband and become an obedient slave-creature. The prose meekly screams at this pathetic injustice and rightly so.

The writing style is extremely circumlocutious in places and only very patient, bedridden readers will want to wade through the long monologues and nature descriptions . . . I mean this in comparison with other novels of the period, so heed that warning. The structure works surprisingly well as the narrative is handed back to Gilbert, although the clumsy recourse to letters to keep the story going makes the last quarter a painful flop technically speaking . . . plot-wise, I was bursting to know how things turned out for the long-suffering Helen. Excellent work. First Brontë has passed the test. Next: Charley.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Luka on the Second Floor

Dear Luka,

You live on the second floor. You live upstairs from me. Yes, I think you’ve seen me before. I am Charles Harold Ottridge, I live on the first floor. Frankly Ms. Luka, I am fed up with the noise coming from your apartment. I have tried repeatedly to contact you in the evenings, but when I knock on your door, you or your husband refuse to answer. It is not my concern whether you choose to participate in domestic violence, but I would appreciate if you would do it with less volume, as some of us like to relax in the evenings after a hard day’s work.




Dear Charles

I received your letter with concern this morning. I am sorry about the noise coming from our apartment, but I assure you it is not domestic violence. I am a very clumsy person and I often trip on stairs and bash my face on walls on so on. This often happens in the evenings and so the noises you hear are me having my accidents. Please don’t report these noises to the landlord, we are quiet people really and do not want to cause a fuss.




Dear Luka,

Thank you for your rather clumsy reply to my original letter. As I said, what goes on in your apartment is not my concern but I would ask that you keep these “accidents” to a minimum in the evenings or I will be forced to speak to the landlord about the noise.




Dear Charles

I received your letter and I wanted to know why you are so unhappy that you have to make threats to me. I told you I will try to keep my accidents to a minimum so why do you have to threaten me? I want to know why you are such an unhappy man that you would write these things.




Dear Luka,

I can assure you I am perfectly content, providing the volume of noise decreases in your apartment.



Dear Charles,

Men like you make good graves.


P.S. My very long and very miserable and squirmily playful story Maybe Tomorrow is up at Blue Lake Review.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

What Pooh Said to Dante

Manny Rayner is a popular reviewer on Goodreads, where I waste 90% of my time. This is a review of his book, What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations.

This is an entirely new thing—a book of (and about) paratexts. A book about the chatter of books: the reviews, commentaries, responses around texts. And here I am poised to contribute to the paratexts around this book of paratexts. Is a revolution stirring within these pages? Or is this some sinister catalogue of subliminal advertising filtered from the digital culture into our precious print-space? Let us explore.

I am reviewing a book of book reviews. In these book reviews, the reviewer, Manny Rayner—author of New York Times Bestsmellers Putting Lubricants into Speech Recognition: The Vulvar Grammar Compiler and The Smokin’ Language Translator—pronounces on various categories of literature, from children’s classics to pop trash to dearly beloved classics. At face value, this is merely a compilation of erudite reviews from a man committed to popularising his responses to literature online. But look deeper.

You are being sucked into a subtle matrix, what the postmodernists call a “recursive loop,” where a narrative finds itself trapped in endless hall of mirrors. As you read, you begin to notice how Manny’s reviews expand outside the texts being discussed—sometimes digressing from the original texts completely, like a new bacteria evolving from its host. Your response to his responses will leave you hungry for responses to your response to his responses and so on like some perpetual conga line of literary sodomy. Soon you will find yourself trapped in this Mannyworld where all that matters are the carefully worded responses to books. So: is this book is the end of books?

Flash forward four years from now, where Manny’s review of the latest Philip Roth is the number one bestseller on Amazon. Philip Roth hasn’t written the book but Manny knows the content of this nonbook from the preceding Philip Roths—yenta and fucking—and can deliver a withering 200-word slapdown in his usual amiable style, safe from mailbombs since no once can tell if he’s American, French, British or Norwegian. The discourse has eaten the discoursed. This is when the authors will have their revenge.

To knock Manny, karen, Bryant and co from their perches the authors write perfect lampoons of their reviews and these reviews themselves become the most popular, returning the authors to their previous place as online nonentities. But nothing can stop the recursive loop except the passing of time—the authors whose texts were parodied will die out, along with the reviewers—there remains no new literary material to write about outside the reviews, all literature has slid out of print. The future is reviews about nothing. The future is an endless oneupmanship to see who can write the wittiest, most popular 200-word capsule review on fuck-all. This is Manny’s fault.

But what about the present? Even if you dislike his brand of smarter-than-thou humour, you have to admit Manny is an important ventricle behind Goodreads (the one linking the brain to the heart, say, or to the bowels). Who else would read Twilight, Harry Potter and Angels & Demons solely for the chance to write snarky, erudite, silly, reviews? Or to impart complex info about chess, linguistics or French grammar?

Sure, he has his flaws: he won’t read your recommendations unless they were already on his reading list. He won’t read works in translation so he won’t read anything in the vast canon of European (except France and Norway), South American or Asian literature. He rarely dips his toe into American postmodernism (or anything from the Dalkey Archive) and always posts reviews of obscure things he read in his younger days. As for this volume, I am partial to the parodies—selections include Beckett, Orwell, Nabokov, Milton, Proust and Austen and various mash-ups. And the dialogues raised the most titters too. So for now, sip slowly on the volume, but watch out for that recursive loop. It cometh.