Saturday, 30 March 2013

My Month in Books, March (Part Two)

13. J.M.G. Le Clézio — Terra Amata

Terra Amata is either a visionary masterpiece or cheap apocalyptic schlock—either way, the end product is a strange and wonderful mixture of Michael Bay and French existentialism. Chancelade is a perpetual boy traversing the stunningly evocative language of this novel. His surroundings shapeshift from sentence to sentence, allowing him occasional moments of beachside lucidity or ludic Oulipian antics, but mostly, he’s like a cyberpunk Scheherazade, caught in immense thickets of doom-laden prose, thundering out the page like a pulpit preacher seconds before a meteor impacts the earth like in the Permian period, drenching the world in one billion trillion tonnes of seething hot lava for over 80,000 years. A novel that runs entirely on opaque imagery and surreal lyricism isn’t an easy sell, but Le Clézio succeeds by speedballing his prose with urgency, lunacy, and a black we’re-all-going-to-die humour, otherwise known as “gallows.” I can’t think of a finer novel to get hanged from.

14. Hubert Selby Jr. — Waiting Period

Cubby’s swansong is a blackly comedic novel about a suicidal nerd who decides to off the bureaucrat that wronged him instead of taking his own life. By manipulating a strain of E-coli bacteria and furtively inserting it into his victim’s coke, he succeeds in his plan to dispense with the faceless desk vulture, and decides to increase his repertoire of sly E-coli murders like a nerdier Charles Bronson until the novel ends on a morally ambiguous note. Not unlike B.S. Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, this last work from Selby fizzles with dark comic energy and his (now tired) stylistic run-ons and stream-con. As a bitter bow-out from the world of letters, and the world, Waiting Period triumphs, leaving pellets of pain in all unsuspecting do-goody readers.

15. James Wood — How Fiction Works

A verymost entertaining and informative book about books and how writers make them from words placed in different orders. Split into handy chapters but written as one lengthy essay with numerical subheadings, Wood teaches us things from Flaubert, James, Joyce, Foster Wallace and other masters and mistresses about how to identify bad writing from good, and how free indirect style is a thing of beauty when done right. Only trouble is his persistent disagreement with a William Gass quote that he milks for the whole book while soldering his argument into the pages. Never disagree with The Gass. Hauntings and such to be feared. I have nothing else to add. Regard the four stars and begone.

16. Sam Savage — The Cry of the Sloth

A quite outrageously dreadful literary satire, so cringe-inducingly lame one wonders whether the noble Coffee House Press has any credentials at all, outside publishing the mighty Sorrentino. Sam Savage has read and met Sorrentino, which makes this novel doubly painful since what transpires is a sanitised, whimsified Mulligan Stew, centred around small lit-mag publisher Andrew Whittaker whose failing mag Soap, along with other sub-comedic sitcommy disasters, precipitates a book-long nervous breakdown. The failure is tone. And approach. Written in a tiresome epistolary format (didn’t Sorrentino kill that off in MS?), the lightly comedic antics fail since the reader isn’t sure whether to pity or laugh at or root for Whittaker, and the bad writing samples suggest merely a laziness (hence the sloth title) but no delusional imagined talent like Antony Lamont, and frankly the humour in these samples (and the book) is so slight it effectively isn’t there at all. Abandoned on p213 with violent disappointment. More people have (and will) read this than Sorrentino’s masterpiece. Sad truth.

17. Steve Hely— How I Became a Famous Novelist

An uproarious assault on the sorts of manipulative middlebrow fictions that sit, with smug pastel or pastoral covers, on every highstreet booksellers’ bestsellers shelves and shift enough units to keep real writers impoverished for nine lifetimes. Next time you encounter someone talking up The Kite Runner or The Poisonwood Bible, slap them across the head with copies of Hely’s witty novel until the message is received that laziness in book choice kills. Bestsellers should come with warnings on their covers: IF YOU BUY THIS, SEVEN BETTER NOVELS WILL REMAIN UNPUBLISHED. In Hely’s comedy, satirical in a sitcommy way, a smart hack masters the lingo of the earnest southern novelist who toploads his books with clichés and lyrical descriptions until through a careful process of cronyist shimmying, he ends up making a moderate puddle of funds before he is cast adrift into the vast ocean of readerly contempt. Top-flight satire, if a little off-base and kooky sometimes, but bang on-message.

18. George Orwell — A Clergyman’s Daughter

Orwell sharpens his satiric knives in this early novel about Dorothy and her life of perpetual misery living in a backward petit bourgeois town. Capturing the pure hell of ill-bred country folk and hateful religious fustians, Orwell creates a sense of smothering hopelessness as his heroine finds herself among homeless hop-pickers, sweating for twelve hours in fields and sleeping in haylofts, and later working for starvation wages under a tyrannical crone who epitomises the penny-pinching meanness of a private school system whose only purpose is to keep kids stupefied and the parents paying the fees. Little about life in 1930s England is portrayed with nothing short of sputtering near-hectoring contempt as Dorothy elects to remains a perpetual virgin in her bleak, pointless existence of rubbing down eczema-addled old ladies and raising funds for an ever-collapsing church, trapped until death in a lonely, friendless, and godless universe of crushing isolation, disappointment, poverty, and fear. The past was a horrible place. Orwell hurts.

19. Kurt Vonnegut — Slaughterhouse-Five

Re-reading Kurt’s famous one for a third (or fourth?) time perhaps wasn’t the wisest move. Upon the third read, Billy Pilgrim’s antics have less of the time-hopping quirkiness and seem more cartoony, while Kurt’s prose comes across as simplistic to the point of patronising. From time to (un)time, his Dresden ramblings have the same sting as on the first read and his humanist humour, and his resigned peacenik stance still seems the best response to war horrors. His time on Tralfamadore also contains bubbles of loveliness and near-profundity, but often the prose (in regard to women) smells dated. As does the humour. Some books are best left buried in the past.

20. George Orwell — Nineteen Eighty-Four

So much to be ANGRY about! If you ever conquer your nagging self-hatred, there is a whole world of untamed FURY waiting to be discovered. People—rich ones, conceited ones, selfish ones, hateful ones, abusive ones, thick ones—everyone is a potential GEYSER of rage!

Fortunately, your self-hatred is strong for now, otherwise you would have to confront the wankers in suits who snubbed the homeless outside the bank, leaving downtrodden debtors to fit the bill; or the woman who strutted with self-regarding arrogance along the pavement; or the smirking busker who strummed crap indie covers outside the library who was probably a middle-class cock named Tim up from his country estate to slum it in a well-appointed Blackford flat while at uni before taking a managerial role in his father’s corporation; or the single mother whose only purpose in life was to push her spawn around by saying their names over and over in a shrill English accent until they erupted in bus-consuming screams; or the old men who stumbled out pubs and staggered to the betting shop, forever trapped in cycles of mindless gambling and alcohol consumption as though art, music, books didn’t exist and the world was one bronchitic catarrhy wheeze-cough; or the billboards for unfunny comedies with wax-faced gurning hasbeen multi-zillionaires; or the people who walked through life blissfully unaware of the contempt and indifference with which they were treated by the corporations that took their money to butcher penguins and pauperise small businesses and abuse starving children in third-world sweatshops so everything looked nice in the display window; or the perpetually corrupt chav-baiting governments that took backhanders from devil-fucking corporations that ruled the world by exploiting and bending the law to make their wallets fatter, dishing out lies whenever convenient to flatter the stakeholders’ greed; or the impudent people from all walks of life so bound up in their own petty needs and wants they would never think to lift a finger to help anyone, or who begrudged giving the tiniest morsel to charity because the self-pleasure impulse was so strong it inconvenienced them to have to dig into their pockets; or the people who filled themselves up with soulless entertainment like commercial pop music and defended their right to pollute the world with their tastes at the expense of suppressing all art with proper value with the capacity to move people in deep heart-shattering ways through hard-wrought artistry, not cheap sentiment; or an interminably dreary future of call centre dystopias where everyone is programmed to deliver peerless customer service and hawk tat for bonuses; or a world akin to ancient Egypt where the cat is venerated over all humans and more deserving of our attention than genocide, famine, war, drought, ecological disasters, and so on; or a world where INDIFFERENCE and GREED were so rampant there wasn’t even a good reason to drag one’s weary carcass out of bed in the morning to face it all again.

So many things to get ANGRY about! How do you even begin to cope with all that?!

21. Raymond Federman—Return to Manure

Almost all Federman is out of print or import-price in my country, except this novel(?) about his imaginative and real-life return to the French farm he worked on as a slave during WWII under the tyrannical hand of Lauzy. Over 190 pages, Federman (as narrator) details life shovelling manure and taking frequent beatings from his perverted boss, and rare moments of respite from the buxom farmer’s daughter (who may be an invention—like anything else in this novel[?]), while travelling with his partner Erica back to the farm to see what emotions it stirs up for use in his book. The ‘surfiction’ deployed in this novel is basically a subset of metafiction—Federman includes interruptions from the “reader” in rectangular boxes, and dialogues with his partner over the accuracy of his narration. The self-consciousness in here is deployed in a tender, bitter and hilarious prose style, with the line between memory and fiction wondrously blurred—clearly the book could be written in no other way for Federman. An excellent introduction to an author I will probably never read again unless those prices come down.

22. Alexander Theroux — Three Wogs

Alex’s first published thing (we’re on first-name terms now) is almost as bizarre as this review. Three Wogs is a politically incorrect triptych-novel set in late 1960s, with each protagonist representing a particular type of disagreeable racist, and Alex’s task is to flay their backward attitudes alive with his divinely satirical prose. In the first story ‘Mrs Proby Gets Hers,’ Alex lampoons stuck-up petit bourgeois spinsters to hilarious effect, capturing the absurd language of needless precision and trivial preciousness. Her encounter with a local Chinese tradesman ends badly during a Fu Manchu movie in a piece of odd mirroring. ‘Childe Roland’ is the longest and least successful of the three, covering the adventures of young thug and bus-cleaner Roland as he chats up local tarts and engages in a potentially violent dialogue with an Indian chap on a bus. The parody of soapbox bigotry is the funniest thing here, reminiscent of the pulpit hissings of President Greatracks in Darconville’s Cat. The last story ‘The Wife of God’ is the wittiest, reminiscent of Ronald Firbank and other pomposity-skewering wits. Taking on the arch sexual cowardice of the church, Alex’s prose reaches its most dazzling peak as the sexless vicar tries convincing his African choirmaster not to marry by threatening him with impossible karmasutric sexual feats. As first books go, Three Wogs is the weirdest I have read in yonks. Since Alex squeezes humour from cultural stereotypes and accents, the book will offend many. But clearly the focus of this book is to ridicule the attitudes of the period (Alex wrote the book during his stay in London) and at this task, he succeeds magniloquently. If Nabokov had written Up the Junction, this might’ve been the result.

23. Paul Fournel — Little Girls Breathe the Same Air as We Do

A dusty Oulipo book from the late seventies, extremely traditional in approach but often funny and moving. A collection of vignettes about various French schoolgirls and the tender coming-of-age moments that makes life so whimsical and cute, if you happen to be bourgeois. This author’s other English book Need For the Bike is an 2000+ page lipogram written in Latin about a lost lemon squeezer, featuring deleted Sappho fragments and a previously unwritten Harper Lee sequel, To Flog a Dead Mockingbird. In the year 2014, Paul will release a 9,000 volume series of books about how Mark Danielewski picks the fluff from his navel. Exciting things doth grow in the avant garden.

24. Terry Eagleton Literary Theory: An Introduction 

From Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory for Toddlers: An Introduction. Phenomenology: Tigger tells Pooh that he must distinguish between the phenomena and noumena of a pot of honey. That his intentionality towards the honey is narrowing his awareness of his surroundings, pushing him into a false structure of consciousness where the honey is both a perpetual fantasy and an instrument of real-life fixation. He tells Pooh he must separate his intentionalities to avoid becoming corrupted and driven by his desire for honey. Hermeneutics: Tigger tells Winnie that he must forget about honey and concentrate on the Heideggerian being-with of bear relatedness. He must suppress the empirical evidence around the existence and necessity of honey as a thing-in-itself and take an antipositivist approach to his own need for honey in a godless and indifferent universe. Reception Theory: Tigger tells Winnie that the only reason he is so popular as a character is that readers can “relate” to his being orange and craving frequent honey. Their life experiences have shown them that things with orange bears and honey are an essential part of the human condition, and require enshrinement in the literary pantheon for almost entirely no other reason. Structuralism: Tigger tells Pooh that his preoccupation with honey is part of larger woodland structure dating back to the stone age, and that “honey” has always been a signifier triggering hunger and savagery in the heart of orange bears, long before Milne gave them the consciousness to understand the signified of “honey” as a delicious bee-made product popularly served in pots. Semiotics: Tigger tells Pooh that honey is merely a symbol for part of a larger racial and class struggle among woodland beings. Across the woodland culture, the word “honey” can symbolise the tyrannous oppression of the orange bears over beavers or squirrels, or the totalitarian confiscation of honey among the lower orders. To bees, “honey” is understood as a priceless trading commodity frequently being plundered by cuddly pirates, whose struggle remains unacknowledged among the wider woodland populace. Post-structuralism: Tigger tells Pooh that honey that the destabilised meaning of his quest is more significant for the reader, whose quest for honey will loom even larger once Pooh’s quest is complete. But more importantly, “honey” is a binary opposition which also means “Jacuzzi,” so Pooh’s system of language is under severe scrutiny. Psychoanalysis: Tigger tells Pooh that his craving for honey is merely a way of screwing his mother and killing his father and venerating his very curly and unseen penis. (From p12, p54, p87, p99, p123, and p149)

Thursday, 28 March 2013

My Month in Books, March (Part One)

1. Alexander Theroux — The Grammar of Rock: Art and Artlessness in 20th Century Pop Lyrics

Pure peevish pleasure. Theroux’s book doesn’t profess to be an authoritative or academic treatise on the pop musics—it doesn’t profess to be anything—but a loose and conversational tirade, a digressive breakless essay, unfurling like one all-night performance at a far-out punk dive. It simulates what “hanging” with Theroux might be like minus the slight stutter and Boston accent. Readers sensitive to his brand of scimitar-sharp satire, and his sometimes undeniably cruel and unnecessary pokes, will not find a friend in this book. Those willing to excuse (or indulge) his virtuoso outpouring of disdain and score-setting (and the emphasis here is on the grammatical boners in pop, not the victories), will find delight in his neurotic nitpickery, his self-confessed obsession over the sloppiness of lyric writers who have ruined many a song for him. Focusing mostly on music from the 40s-60s, Theroux’s book is a whirlpool of literary, cinematic, cultural, historical and philosophical references, astounding in their range and esoterica and hipness (about five mentions of Family Guy—who saw that coming?) Since the book takes this loose form some of the song titles appear to be wrong or misattributed in places, and the book is riddled with missing brackets, inverted commas and dropped Ts due to poor (or no) proofreading from FG. But the breadth of insult, reference and quotation is surprising and entertaining—Theroux is no fustian or anachronist (his professing a love for The Fall now has me signed up as a Theroux completist)—and makes Grammar of Rock a must-read for the eagle-eared audiophile and soggy-hearted misanthrope.

2. Alasdair Gray — Poor Things

The book that turned me on to frame tales, unreliable narrators, authors-as-editors, found documents, pastiche and parody, emotionally stimulating artwork, the novel an a objet d’art, run-on sentences, paratextual palaver, and metafiction-with-a-heart is as marvellous on the third read as it was on the first. Gray’s novel presents two unreliable accounts of Bella Baxter’s life—the first a Frankenstein and Victorian horror pastiche told in the form of a (fictional?) autobio of “public health officier” Archibald McCandless, the second a brief corrective letter from Bella Baxter denouncing his entire book (¾ of Poor Things) as a complete fabrication. Gray never wrote characters as vivid and wondrous as the ear-splitting mutant Baxter, the gambling Don Juan Wedderburn, and the liberated feminist Bella in his other books, and Poor Things finds him perfecting the balance of postmodern playfulness, artistic perfection and multi-layered parody and historical insight present in his other books, but nowhere as coherent, moving, hilarious, sly and cunning as in this masterpiece. I rank this as the peak of Gray’s literary achievements, below Lanark and 1982 Janine which show their age now, and recommend to all who find the above list of qualities paramount to their textual tantalisation.

3. George Orwell — Animal Farm

It is almost as if George dislikes Stalin and his cronies! I mean who among us has never set up a group on the basis of democratic voting and then decided strong autocratic leadership is better, plus more comfy and lovely, for us? I mean who can honestly say we inhabit a nation where equality, at any time in history, ever existed or ever worked for less than a delusional four weeks? Equality is one of those concepts— like the Bogey Man or Bill Withers—that sounds nice in principle but doesn’t quite cut the vinegar. Far better to have a strong leader. I have decided, since no one has challenged me as I write this review, to become that leader and have Paul Bryant, Manny, NR, Ali, Geoff Wilt, all the Seans, Megha, Mike, Ian Graye, and everyone else better than me, placed in pens until further notice, where their only reading material will be wall-to-wall MJ Nicholls reviews until they learn how to do it properly. Upon their release, they will realise no other reading material comes close to the wit and beauty of MJ Nicholls reviews, and they will no longer challenge me for likes and fawning groupies or the pantwetting adoration and erotic submission of auto-likers and serial review-skimmers. And it is all down to Orwell’s book. Thanks George!

4. Karrie Fransman — The House That Groaned

For fans of grotesque Steadmanesque drawings and corporeal Selfian humour, Fransman’s GN debut will produce squeamish laughs from the darkest nodes of your oesophagus. Like Chris Ware’s Building Stories in that the book takes place in a tenement building and shows the lives of various inhabitants therein and the history of the building itself, House That Groaned is less concerned with hitting universal notes of loneliness and sadness and more concerned with squeezing laughs from a man who dates the disfigured, an obese socialite who stages bacchanalian food orgies, a m-to-f transsexual who is gored through a coffeetable moments before humping her true love, and a landlady who shapeshifts into cabinets and sofas. For a debut work (endorsed, inexplicably, by Nic Roeg who made Don’t Look Now—an uncle or something?) this is the product of a dangerous comic mind verging on the sadistic, but grotesque nihilism always has a place in the world because sometimes the human race ain’t worth redeeming. Especially when grownups use non-words like ‘ain’t’ in reviews and expect to get away with it. Liked this.

5. Posy Simmonds— Gemma Bovery

I read this for a light Sunday evening pleasure. In the UK we have dramas about country doctors or midwives on Sunday TV, followed by two-hour detective shows with cuddly folk like Steven Fry, to reassure us the world is a kind and fuzzy place and set us up for the Monday hell. This is my non-televisual equivalent—light-hearted comedy, with a fleck of extremely tame drama, among the unrepentant middle-classes, with bags of Frenchisms and Madame Bovary references. It is a fine alternative to drowning in self-loathing and beer, which so many books make me want to do of late. And hey, did you know Stephen M wrote a brilliant review of my book? Like that instead!

6. Gilbert Sorrentino — Odd Number

The first novel in Sorrentino’s challenging Pack of Lies trilogy is a detective story, except it isn’t clear what, if any, crime has been committed, or by whom. Split into three narratives, the book resembles Pinget’s The Inquisitory in its approach in that an unnamed inquisitor grills an unnamed observer about random events that have taken place—in this case at a party, where avant-garde deadbeats from Sorrentino’s earlier novels are discussing making a movie about the very party they are attending. The first narrator speaks in hesitant fragments, rendered with tabulations between breaths or interruptions, the second provides a more comprehensive version of events in long breakless paragraphs, and the third is a mere list-making machine who only gets ten pages to get things straight. Reading like the aftermath of Coover’s Gerald’s Party, the novel is a frustrating exercise in deliberate obfuscation and relentless intertextual gossiping to the point the reader cries out for some semblance of order—but a Sorrentino novel isn’t the place for trivial pettiforgeries like order or clarity, oh no. It is a place for white slips with lace trimmings and ice-blue panties and Henri Kink’s new opus, Imaginary Quaaludes of Arterial Thongs. One of Gil’s most ruthlessly indulgent books and the basis, so it seems, for his son Christopher’s stylistically similar Sound on Sound.

7. Charles Burns — The Hive

The second instalment in the Burns trilogy contains more expletive-spitting bald green alien workers, worrying 23rd-floor breeding wards populated with pretty waifs, sexy sickly teeny relationship plots with cleverly crowbarred nudity and Patti Smith references, worrying fever-dream-flashback things with various alien squid-like creatures bursting through chests, extremely veiny moribund death-bed dads, something about romantic novels and kinky photographs, the return of the cash-strapped mini-sumo-wrestler squashed-testicle-mutant, and evil sushi with toothy wormy beings sprouting from its nutritious insides. Diverting but far too brief to get all hysterical about, esp. with an absent conclusion. Charles Burns discusses on Bookworm.

8. Isaac Bashevis Singer — Enemies: A Love Story

This novel achieves a remarkable feat in that it makes a love quadrangle among four ex-pat holocaust survivors seem both traumatic and sexy, rather than traumatic and even more traumatic. Herman is the (un)fortunate bigamist caught between his faithful peasant wife Yadwiga and runaway soul Masha as he struggles to adapt to his life of wartime memories and apparent freedom while ghostwriting Talmudic materials for a rabbi, despite having hurled God in the bucket—sort of. Later in the novel, his presumed-dead wife Tamara turns up to complete the quadrangle, making Herman’s struggle for sanity, stability, identity, whatever, even grizzlier. Singer’s novel is melancholy, tender, powerful and extremely entertaining and touches upon a fascinating historical milieu unfamiliar to this reader. Sensational prose.

9. Harold Brodkey — The Runaway Soul

Brodkey’s lifelong opus, largely forgotten for obvious reasons, is a contender for the most solipsistic, inward-looking 835pp novel since Bill Vollmann’s nine-volume Reflections on My Eyebrows. Brodkey, who published a story collection in 1958 and no books in the 60s or 70s or most-of-the-80s until Stories in an Almost Classical Mode in 1988, by remaining a New Yorker man his entire life, made himself a human dartboard by holding back this novel until 1991. Because TRS was savaged by everyone except forgotten novelist D.M. Thomas (famous for his pretentious erotica in the 80s). The novel is narrated by Brodkey stand-in Wiley and dwells largely on his adolescence in the Midwestern region and his monstrous and marvellous sister Nonie.

My position is that I simultaneously loathe and adore this novel, usually within the same sentence, and my assumption is that Brodkey knew his prose would meet with outright hostility, but forged ahead in his artistic vision to create a work replete with such a painstaking and psychopathically obsessive Proust-in-therapy micro-dissection of his childhood, no one could deny, nor appreciate, his particular brand of sectionable genius. The opening parts of TRS are the most arresting—the beautiful rhythms of the lightning storm scene with Nonie, and the writing on this character in general, are positively Gassian—but the prose falls into a strange discursive mode, stripped of musicality and liveliness, lapsing into dense thickets of dashes and ellipses and fragmented phrases, almost as if the narrator is speaking aloud to his snoozing therapist on the page. This becomes the default mode for TRS, and I spent over a month desperate to recapture the amazement of the first 200pp, but the amazement eluded me.

Simply, I agree with some of Brodkey’s nemeses who accused TRS of arrogance, pretentiousness, repetition and self-obsession. It drips from almost every page, but that doesn’t cancel out the moments of thunderous intelligence, the tantric eroticism (one sex scene lasts over 80pp and one canoodling scene 50pp), the fabulously vivid family descriptions, and the scenes with brattish babe Nonie, equal only to Cora in Janice Galloway’s All Made Up in the evil sister stakes. And the style, once tolerated, does contain moments of illumination and beauty beneath the babbling indulgence. As unsatisfying as it is on the whole, TRS does capture the particulars of (an) adolescence with a meticulous psychological insight and heavyhearted attention to detail. At times, it feels like writing this physically pains Brodkey, and that melancholy lifts up and weighs down his ill-fated opus.

10. Alexander Theroux — The Primary Colours

These impressive “essays,” also titled All the Shit I Know About Three Colours in One Long Luscious List, finds Theroux in fact-gathering mode, compiling a remarkable range of information on beautiful blue, yucky yellow and romping red. Each page contains upwards of nine facts that can be supped on slowly like a delicious latte from your friendly tax-dodging conglomerate milky libation provider, or hurled into the gub like a fast-food product from your local beef and spud dispenser. Digging into his bottomless well of factoids from art and real life—books, painters, films, music, pop-culture, folklore, religion, history-in-general—Theroux once again demonstrates his reputation as the most underappreciated superbrain in American letters. A passionate pleasure and almost entirely free from verbose insults . . . but not quite! I like the colour blue.

11. Gore Vidal — Point to Point Navigation

Disappointerissimo. This memoir is meant to cover Gore’s life from 1968-2006, but unlike its predecessor Palimpsest, fails to offer an entertaining and comprehensive account of the Great Wit’s activities during these four pregnant decades. First off, the chapters are unpardonably bitesize—lacking in detail and conversational digressionism familiar to Gorehounds—and second off, Gore discusses his childhood at length (heard it!) and, seemingly, whatever interests him at the moment of writing. The non-linear sprawl that worked so well in Palimpsest here is simply unfocused and far too casually anecdotal. The bitesize approach leaves many chapters feeling like responses to questions posed by interviewers, as Gore freestyles long or short answers depending on what pops up in the memory hole, and although we itch ourselves impatiently for facts-presented-chronologically, we lap it up like the snivelling Gorehounds we is. R.I.P.

12. Javier Marías — Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me

Marvellous. Loved the serpentine sentences with their astonishing thought-within-thought, near-metaphysical poetic lilt, preference for the cosy comma over the sloppy semicolon, their use of not-oft-seen things like reported speech (and thought!) within parentheses, or another character’s dialogue(!), repeated phrases (“dark back of time” about six times) and callback to earlier passages and quotations to elevate the plot matter to something loftier than the obvious. Mike is right—Marías, aside from being Spain’s premier James Belushi impersonator, is an origamist. But where is that elusive fifth star, ye cry? Despite my love for these sentences, not every one was lusciously lickingly lovely—plenty felt like stylistic run-ons, not unlike Hubert Selby deploying his punctuationless style merely as a formality in later books like The Willow Tree, and left this asthmatic reader gasping for that most arcane of necessities, a paragraph break. Meanderingness also experienced in the middle portion of the novel regarding the hero’s ex-lover, but the novel builds towards a stupendously bendy climax, where Marías delights in scrunching one’s brain into various cubist swans and other pond creatures, and all is happy again.