Tuesday, 31 July 2012

My Month in Books, Part Two (July)

13. Charles Dickens — Dombey and Son

A big bloated behemoth Dickens. An instructive homily on pride and behaving like a coldblooded douche towards your daughter because she isn’t a son. Once Dombey’s son dies (not a plot spoiler, it happens early on), the novel seems to collapse, start again. Britain was in mourning for Paul Dombey’s demise, and this grief is reflected in the sluggish pace that follows. Wonderful, wrenchingly excruciating scenes between Dombey, whose hauteur builds to pitches of teeth-grinding stubbornness, and his many minions. The Solomon and Son subplot is stretched a little far, the scenes with lonely Captain Cuttle don’t help energise the book in between the necessarily languorous Dombey parts. Florence’s struggle at the centre of the story, her devotion to her father, is a development for Dickens: a sophisticated portrayal of a daughter desperate for a tyrant’s love and approval. A broodier, less comic endeavour than its precedents. As a social commentary, the book has heft. Big business thrives the more heartless and depersonalised it becomes. Dombey’s downfall is linked to his weakness of heart: had he remained a tyrant, his empire would have thrived. Modern parallels? Look out the window. Effective secondary characters, but many eye-glazing moments. Sighs and page-skimming. Descriptions spiralling out of control at this stage, approaching their full Dickens circumlocutious apogee. Edith’s arrival propels the book from its mid-part doldrums into an electrifying psychological battle of the sexes, Dombey determined to enslave his wife, Edith turning his nose up at his pathetic puffedupness. Marvellous. For those who want the abridged version, try this for Florence, this for Dombey.

14. Meredith Brosnan — Mr. Dynamite

Comparisons with The Tunnel and Take Five are not too far off for this Guinness-fuelled, torpedo-strength virtuoso performance-rant par excellence. The former for its claustrophobic comedy, its unflinching devotion to a warped mind, the latter for its linguistic play and Falstaffian tomfoolery. Jarleth Prendergast is a frustrated multimedia artist whose dreams are not coming true, but a chance encounter with $33,000 bequeathed by an Irish aunt prompts a reversal of fortune. Narrated in short bursts of stream-of-consciousness (tamed s-o-c, broken up with en dashes) in thoughts addressed to a lawyer friend from Ireland (a voice in his head), the book abounds in hipster references, hilarious quips and original wordplay, held together by an erratic, improvisatory plot. Dalkey rarely publish first novels from contemporary writers, despite soliciting manuscripts, but when they do, they strike gold. (Sadly this man [for it is a man] hasn’t published anything since).

15. Kurt Vonnegut — Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5

For those who’ve worked their way through Kurt’s fourteen novels, five short story collections, four non-fiction collections and assorted insubstantial curios, your last act of barrel-scraping lies with his short-lived career as a playwright. Happy Birthday, Wanda June is your other option (or perhaps you’ve done that already? top of the class!) and sadly, in addition to an old novella from the 40s Basic Training, someone has released his COLLEGE NEWSPAPER work as an e-book in an act of madness (although no trace of this exists on the Devil’s Marketplace in the UK, sigh of relief). This teleplay was released in hardcover at the height of Kurt’s popularity, so is clearly a bibliography bolsterer, but not without its merits. The teleplay appears to be an imaginative reprise of some of the best SF concepts and messages from his short stories and novels, notably Cat’s Cradle and ‘Harrison Bergeron,’ interrupted by stills from the show (and photos by Jill Krementz) to create a not entirely unsuccessful textual-TV hybrid. Given the book takes less than an hour to complete, it’s an inoffensive experiment, and at least the designers attempted something original rather than simply reproducing the play. Beats reading another volume of unpublished bottom-drawer fiction, says this shameless completist.

16. Alexander Theroux — An Adultery

This is a novel about that fourth girlfriend of yours, the one you had before you settled down with the woman you are convinced you love (all evidence points to love, you quarrel only monthly, you are only mildly displeased when it’s her on the phone), who you only learned three months into the relationship was married with two children, a parrot, a canary, and her own independent restaurant chain specialising in coypu dishes. The woman who phoned you at three a.m. to tell you she preferred Worcester sauce to mayo, who only liked making love in the utility closet at your parents’ house, who would burst into tears if she spotted an upturned tack lying on the carpet because it reminded her of childhood tacking carpets with her papa in Wisconsin before the flood swept all her belongings and little brother Timmy away. The woman you still love, despite her having eloped with a kangaroo trapper in the Australian outback, put on twenty pounds, and developed a mescaline addiction to embarrass Syd Barrett. It’s not your fault, we have no say in the matter.

Theroux’s equivalent is named Farol and his novel is a Perecian “attempt to exhaust an adultery,” running at 396 pages of marathon-strength first-person analysis of the narrator’s relationship with his erratic, shambolic disaster of an on/off lover. Comparisons are drawn by the blurbers with Flaubert and James, and the novel is rather like listening in on James’s conversations with his therapist as he drones on with unimpeachable eloquence about every nuance of his present relationship. For me, the book exhausts itself around the three-hundred page mark, where I skipped to the end towards the inevitable, downbeat conclusion. Otherwise the novel was in danger of lapsing into extreme tedium and silliness through excess. Theroux’s attempt to exhaust each and every nuance of this topic, rendered in extremely stylish, lyrical and bilious prose, also serves to put the topic of adultery in American letters to bed, perhaps partly his ambition too. Otherwise, a remarkably accomplished solo performance, perfect for those who agree “character is plot.” [With my sincere apologies to Mr. T for pages 300-386. In another life, maybe].

17. Lyn Hejinian — My life

An excellent “poetic autobiography,” told in lyrical, repetitious, elliptical prose, slowly passing through a life with baffling clarity, bamboozling starkness and confuddling honesty. The chapter headings usually reappear embedded in the subsequent chapter text, hinting at mathematical structures or arrangements between chapters (or even sentences?). As a non-poet and rare poetry reader, I’m rarely impressed by this sort of high modernist plate-spinning trickery, unless it’s purely prose, but this book impresses by its emphasis on the word over the world (thanks Gass), which Hejinian’s bourgeois book-driven upbringing would have inculcated in her from the off. All that matters is what the artist committed. The rest are citations and footnotes.

18. William Carlos Williams — The Doctor Stories

William Carlos Williams was perhaps (Gilbert) Sorrentino’s most abiding influence, which isn’t so surprising when reading these stories drawn from Williams’s life as a GP (which he practised his whole life, in addition to writing a bibliography this size—holymolywow). The stories are mildly experimental in their shunning of inverted commas and confusing first-person narrators with characters and reported speech, and their ear for dialect and speech is sharp—all things Sorrentino expanded upon in his Brooklyn novels. Otherwise, the content of these pieces is straightforward. Unlike the treacherous hells experienced by Bulgakov in his Country Doctor's Notebook (travelling through Russian blizzards to deliver babies using faulty forceps), Williams has lesser but equally teeth-clenching ills to compete with such as hysterical mothers, obstinate children and poor families with nine kids unable to spot him a few dollars for his trouble. All in a day’s work as neighbourhood saviour and poet shamelessly mining material. The straightforward tone of the stories, unflinching and honest, helps them deliver powerful suckerpunches to the heart. Contains several grimly wondrous poems too.

19. William Gaddis Carpenter’s Gothic

There was no way I was going to start my Gaddis experience with his 976pp Olympic marathon The Recognitions, not having sampled his style first. Unfortunately, there is nothing in this short novel to repel me from said monolith except perhaps the disorienting dialogue and scene changes (of the four characters in this novel no one formally enters or exits, nor conducts the same conversation), but the man’s prose is unique, mellifluous and (could it be?) readable. What! you say. You mean it isn’t an even more densely packed Recognitions, or like Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49—all the extraneous readable prose cut completely, leaving only the cult-forming unintelligible gibberish? No, sir! This novel offers a series of brief interviews with hideous men, with heiress Elizabeth at the centre, whose life with her one-expletive-only husband, leeching brother and slippery landlord forms the “crux” of the piece—so much as this “piece” has a “crux”—taking us on an inventive satirical bus tour of American . . . greed? religious propaganda? men who behave like a world-class assfaces? dehumanised dudes in search of the dollar? All this and less. Mr. Salvage sums it up rather well, “bitter and loud.” 

20. David Foster Wallace Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

4.5 stars rounded up to a fanboyish five. Brief Interviews is the strongest short story collection from the affectionately acronymously monikered DFW in this reviewer’s eyes—Girl With Curious Hair falling too far into a sort of rat-escaping-the-fictional-labyrinth obliqueness, and Oblivion supersized with unstoppable novella-length formal flops. Both flaws are in evidence here but are steeped in so much hip-shaking wonderment it’s heartless not too turn a blind eye. ‘Forever Overhead’ and ‘The Depressed Person’ and ‘Octet’ and the title stories are the formidable insulation of the book, caulked with little vignettes and cool experiments, giving the collection a clear-minded unity, purpose . . . manifesto, even. Unlike the other collections, Brief Interviews feels touched with the same form-owning irrepressible one-man Goliathian intellectual megalomania at play in Infinite Jest and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The mostly appalling ‘Tri-Stan’ and ‘On His Deathbed’ can be excused because they belong to the broader purpose of allowing the one-of-a-kind mind of DFW to expand to its fattest, happiest horizons on the page for us all to see. Not that I’m pandering to the mythopoeia or anything. But this is a seriously significant work. Got it? [P.S. The UK Abacus DFW editions are useless. Miniscule fonts and hideous covers will not help win a legion of British supporters . . . ]

21. Xiaolu Guo UFO in Her Eyes

The ‘documents’ novel, or the ‘found documents’ novel, is the most popular way to escape the Barthesian author v. scriptor dilemma. To sever all claims to the book being formally authored by the dude whose name is on the cover, to turn the ‘author’ into ‘editor’ to remove all traces of their presence from the manuscript and relegate them to scissors-and-paste men (or women) so all their biographical cultural educational historical baggage has no chance to infect the reader’s brain with a single personal judgement. How many novels have you binned after reading ‘recent Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate’ or ‘frequent contributor to The New Yorker’ or ‘edits the independent poetry journal eLiXiRs?’ Anyway, unless the author’s name is wiped from the cover completely (in hardcover—his cover ‘accidentally’ self-blown in paperback), the struggle is futile. This novel is a ‘documents’ novel from an ex-pat Chinese Londoner and makes effective use of government documents and reports to tell the story of modernisation on peasant village Silver Hill and its inhabitants. The tone is poised somewhere between indignation and gentle mockery, working up to an understated, inevitable climax (whether the form assists the resonance of the suicide isn’t certain). But I like this woman. Powerful filmmaker too: She, A Chinese and How is Your Fish Today? being notables. 

22. Charles Baudelaire The Flowers of Evil

Superlative. Thrilling. Sensual. Naughty. Macabre. Joyous. Liberating. Essential. Poetry for the reluctant poetry reader, i.e. me. (A little distracted here listening to Belle & Sebastian’s Write About Love which I finally acquired. Hence the choppiness). Great translation. Don’t care about reading in the original or what is lost in translation. Each translation adds to or improves the previous and this one reads pretty swell to me. Where do I go from here? Verlaine? Rimbaud? Mallarmé? Pam Ayres? (No one’s on GR at the weekends anyway, I don’t have to bust too many vessels being erudite). Read this shit now.

23. Ishmael Reed The Free-Lance Pallbearers

Ishmael Reed is another unread unsung hero of American literature, relegated to a footnote in the canon for not being white and macho and writing about what happens behind closed doors in the wheatiest windiest nooks of the Midwest. His debut novel (this one) announces his important, original voice among the muscles and machismo. Reed’s language combines the free-wheeling rhythms of jazz and Beat poetry with erudite slapdown of Swift’s satire and Joyce’s tireless lexical invention. The first fifty pages of this cartwheeling absurdist satire electrify, dazzle, slapsmackbangwallop the reader with their hilarious, sui generis flightiness. This being a novel in the rollicking sixties language-as-music style, its absurdity has weary moments. But you’ve certainly never read writing like this before, unless you’ve read another Reed.

24. L. Frank Baum The Wonderful World of Oz

Dorothy is actually a dumpy, doughy backwater farmgirl in this book. She would have grown into a stout, strong-limbed muscular farmers’ wife with no time for things like affection or intercourse, but a damn good head for cornshuckin’ at 99 degrees in the hawt Kansassy summer. So the well-worn epithet ‘no place like home’ is of course a vicious ironic phrase meaning ‘shit, you’d better get outta that backwater Kansas wheat paddy before stupidity, indolence, routine, depression and phenobarbital addiction kills the love inside ya, never mind them talkin’ lions and kooky tinmen honey.’ Having said that, I haven’t read the follow-up novels. Maybe she marries a millionaire. Just further proof that adulthood spoils everything and we peak as humans at thirteen. This was my first time with this novel. Perfect little story, beautifully done.

25. Nicholson Baker The Everlasting Story of Nory

Book report: The book I red was called ‘The Everlasting Story of Nory’ by Nicolson Baker. I liked this book becoze the girl who is in it who is called Nory but her long name is Ellynor is very nice because she helps out her friend Pamela when people are bullying her and she makes up good stories. Sumtimes I was bored and their were bits I didn’t understand becoze the book is hard in places with diffycult words and its more a girls book than a boys book. Nory is very smart she is smarter than me or most peeple my age and she is a merkin but goes to a skool in england which is the cuntry below my one which is scotland. my daddy told me Nicolson Baker has other books which are not for kids this makes sense to me as he uses big words not sootable for kids. Nory is nice but I think girls are smelly and sumtimes I flick bogeys at them becoze they get on my nerves sumtimes. Girls should red this book they would like nory as I sayed she is very nice how she helps out her friend I think this a very good books. That is the end of my report. 

26. Alasdair Gray — Why Scots Should Rule Scotland

History report: Scotland is the cuntry I live in it is a small cuntry beside England wich is the bigest cuntry in the UK. Sum peeple think Scotland should be indeependent wich means not ruled by the peeple in England becuze peeple in England do not look out for peeple in Scotland becuze they think Scotland couldnt work without England. One of these peeple is Alstair Grey who rote about that in this book wich I found boring it was all about Scots histry. If Scotish peeple were given freedom like in the film Bravehart there would need to be more peeple making things like shortbred and haggis and other Scottish things like that. English peeple are no good at making things like shortbred or haggis or kilts there needs to be Scottish peeple doing that. I wish Alstair Grey had riten a more better book this one was realy long and boring I liked the story at the end I wish there were more storeys in this book I supose it is a histry book that concudes my essay on histry.

27. Alasdair Gray Old Men in Love

I read this since my undiagnosed obsessive-compulsiveness towards canon completion (or oeuvre overdoing) bade me do it. Do you see. No question mark. There was simply no way, having read eighteen other books by Alasdair Gray, and sampled two others, plus a biography, I wasn’t going to read Old Men in Love, his last novel. Illogical. In this universe, in this incarnation of me I was always going to read Old Men in Love at some point. Kismet. Geddit. No question mark. My verdict is really irrelevant here, since what I should be reviewing is the book in relation to the others in my OCD canon completion experience. How did this, as the nineteenth book in my reading order, match up to the other five or six I read through blind loyalty to an author I cherished in my late teens? Answer: matches up swell. Old Men in Love is a cunning cut-and-paste exercise by a master of the half-arsed-but-beautifully-designed last-minuter. As Gray’s self-annihilating alter ego Sidney Workman writes in the afterword, the novel comprises bits culled from old TV plays, dreary historical narratives, and previously published articles on politics and place. The whole thing is an A+ exercise in suturing old bits and passing it off as an At Swim-Two-Birds or If on a winter’s night a traveller-style exercise in stops-and-starts frames-within-frames and yada yada. Gray has been looting the avant-garde for most of his career, and since most Scottish readers have never heard of the postmodern authors he steals from he’s held up as an original in this naive land. So this is not a novel. The individual bits work together quite well. The Tunnock sex fantasies are silly. I had to skip the Socratic dialogue and parts of the religious narrative. Bits are merely Gray chatting to himself. Anywho. I am almost finished with Gray. One left. G’night.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

My Month in Books, Part One (July)

1. Charles Dickens — Martin Chuzzlewit

Clipped Review:

Brill. Dickensian. Not ne plus ultra but close enough. More complex villains and heroes than precedents. Sublimely comic, including one hilarious scene of begging and bitching Chuzzlewits desperate for the old man’s loot. Best name: Sweedlepipe. Messy, sprawling and less structured in parts. Especially the last 40pp. But divine all the same.

A Pecksniffian Digression:

I work part-time at a homeless shelter and I always recommend Dickens as a panacea to ail the suffering hearts of those poor feckless wretches without deeds or property to their names that reside in the scummiest marshlands my dear ancestors that came from the bogs as wouldn’t see fit to wallow in. “My dear wastrels!” I entreat to those broken spirits as would soon pick up a book as embrace their fellow men with tearful laments of their mutual hardship, “Dickens is a noble cure for the wailings and lamentations of such as mendicants as yourselves, and the paltry sum I ask from you in return is as nothing as the soulful nutriments to be derived from the adventures therein. As I often say, what matters more to man, the trifling bread and water that keeps us in temporary sustenance but offers no solace in those dark nights when we prostrate ourselves at God’s heavenly feet, or deep lasting spiritual food to set us on our ways up and to our fortunes?” Sometimes these poor souls have the rascal folly to denounce my generosity as two-faced, but I look beyond such lowness and avail myself with their money to a well-earned slice of lamb cutlet with Ms Tippet’s special sauce, followed by a pint or two of Mr Swaddlecob’s pure English ale. Real food indeed! God bless the wretches!

2. Emmanuel Bove — My Friends

Yes. Hell and expletive yes. As ever, other reviewers have capably articulated my thoughts for me, so there’s no reason to read this when you can read Geoff Wilt, Knig-o-lass, Jimmy, Adam Florida and Mark Zero’s fine reviews (on Goodreads). I won’t provide links, since they’re easily findable by looking above (or below) this sparse paragraph. All I can say is: heartbreaking and melancholy, perfectly realised, the real deal. Universal. Read it. But don’t listen to this after.

3. Roland Topor — Joko’s Anniversary

This novella is readable as either a witty black comedy, a surreal satire of Stalinist systems, or a pre-Palahniukian exercise in empty upchuckery. All three seem to be in evidence. For background info on Topor, please consult Nate’s review, and for an entertaining (if unhealthy) account of the bloodier aspects (with analysis), consult Knig-o-lass’s review (on Goodreads). For my thoughts, please consult the next few sentences. Topor’s skill at surreal humour is first-rate: he establishes the parameters of his world clearly and doesn’t lapse into bland anything-goes-absurdism. But the graphic nature of his satire sits uneasily within the tone of the first half—making the gruesomeness seem heavy-handed as satire, undercut by the continual line of surreal winking mischief that runs throughout. The elements don’t really cohere, but fortunately the brutality doesn’t lapse into the splatterlaughterporn of the execrable Eat Him if You Like (no link provided on purpose), which has hints of Topor, without the wit or skill. Overall—on a par with that other unread Gallic scoundrel, Mr. Boris Vian.

4. Charlotte Brontë — Shirley

Tackling Brontëism #4 — Shirley

Shirley is Charlotte’s sophomore slump. Her Kill Uncle. Her You Shall Know Our Velocity. Her Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. And so on. I don’t care how cute Mr Rochester is, this novel is a deeply vexing mess. Firstly, there are several plotlines and not one has the urge to intersect. The rebelling miners plot launches the novel in tandem with the idle curates poor-versus-rich plot, then dribbles away with the introduction of the second plot: Caroline’s crush on Mr Moore. This plot is soon replaced by the late appearance of Shirley, the most interesting character in the novel, whose bland friendship with Caroline stems the flow of Shirley’s androgynous awesomeness. This too dribbles away with too many pastoral scenes, misplaced polemics, increasingly tedious extended dialogues and domestic trivialities. The novel feels aimless and incompetent without recourse to the tropes of a form (i.e. gothic romance tropes) like Charlotte used in Jane Eyre, so bumbles along at a grinding pace offering succour in all-too-infrequent scenes of tension or conflict between Shirley and others, which soon peter out into dreary ten-page dialogues or ruminations studded with biblical references. I managed up to 392pp, which is three-quarters—if any devotees of this book want to fill me in on the last quarter please do. Disappointing! Next one, Vilette.

5. Roland Topor — The Tenant

An effective horror tale from the ‘Groupe Panique’ polymath. For an amusing summary and sassy shtick, see this tenant. For a personal account in loving lower case, see this tenant. For more on Topor, see this tenant. For a long review in Persian, see this tenant. For 100 reasons to kill yourself right now, see the author. For a review by a man called William Van, see this future corpse. For a review by an extremely popular GR member, see this mad blinking eye twitching inside a bandaged head. For my review, come to my neighbourhood.

6. Thomas Hardy — Under the Greenwood Tree

Hardy’s third novel is about a string band that gets replaced by a sexy female organist. After that, about how the sexy female organist is pursued by three suitors and she chooses the poor, handsome one. How do students write theses on this shit? I have two ornamental degrees and I can’t think up anything useful to say about this extremely slight, simple novel. Except, I tried Thomas Hardy’s approach to courting at the speed dating last night. First woman: I wonder if you would do me the honour—no, the convenience, of marrying me. Response: No. Second woman: If it’s no trouble, I would like to install you as my spouse. Response: Drink poured on head (crème de menthe, with dandruff flecks). Third woman: I have decided to take a wife. You meet my needs. Response: Testicles kicked into the next village and served as meatballs on the platter of an unsuspecting toddler. Fourth woman: Marry me? Response: Sure, on one condition: you demonstrate a pair of functioning testicles. Ah—life’s little ironies. This book is simply nice, let’s not pretend otherwise.

7. William H. Gass — A Temple of Texts

If you care passionately about literature, especially literature published by Dalkey Archive, these essays will yield Aeolian harps of amazement, banjos of bliss, castanets of cheeriness, didgeridoos of delight, euphoniums of ecstasy, fiddles of fortune, guzhengs of giddiness, harmonicas of happiness, igils of idolatry, jew’s harps of joyousness, kazoos of kittenishness, lyres of lovespurts, mandocellos of magnificence, nose flutes of niceness, oboes of oooohess, piccolos of pleasure, quinticlaves of quiddity, reed organs of rightness, sackbuts of sensuality, tubas of totalfuckingwowness, vuvuzelas of veryfuckingamazingness, wurlitzers of wowwowwilliamgassness, xiaos of x-marks-the-spot, yodellers of yespleasemoregassness and zugtrompettes of zilovewilliamgassnessosity. His essays in here range from superlative prefaces on Alasdair Gray, Rabelais, Erasmus, Stanley Elkin, Robert Coover and Flann O’Brien, as well as personal reminiscences of his time with William Gaddis, Elkin and John Hawkes. His piece ‘Fifty Literary Pillars’ is Gass’s personal canon of essentials (compiled here via Nathan) and ‘The Sentence Seeks Its Form’ and ‘In Defence of the Book’ are outstanding essays on the craft of the poetic, perfectly euphonious sentences Gass considers tantamount to fellatio from Audrey Tatu on a waterbed. Throw in some pieces on Rilke and one or two philosophical digressions and you have £10 well spent. Essential.

8. J.M. Barrie — Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter & Wendy

Peter Pan or, How one man’s repressed paedophilia captured children’s imaginations for a century, was a cheery wee book. My reason for reading this as an adult? I have not grown up. I remain frozen in childhood. Whenever I find myself in adult surroundings, like an estate agent office, I wiggle in my chair and fight back the urge to say things like “how can you do that, pretend to wear the suit and act all grown up?” as I suck on my lollipop. Yes. Your humble reviewer might be able coast through a Dickens in a few days, but when it comes to social interaction he’d be better off in the crèche. Anyway, I found both books a disappointment. I’m in Team Alice, not Team Pan. Does this still enchant kids? I wonder. The recent Jason Isaacs version was nice. It’s late. I ramble.

9. Jean Cocteau — The Holy Terrors

First, Cocteau’s sumptuous, surreal little pearl of a novella, in peerless translation from Rosamond Lehmann. Next, Gilbert Adair’s affectionate rip-off The Holy Innocents (spot the pun). Next, Bernardo Bertalucci’s film The Dreamers, with a screenplay by Gilbert Adair. Next, Gilbert Adair turns his screenplay (or re-edits his original novel) into a novelisation of The Dreamers. Not a dud in the bunch. An Olympic relay of sultry, challenging art. What better?

10. Tom Mallin — Dodecahedron

The teensiest Tom Mallin revival has “sprung up” on GR via Declan, via Knig-o-lass, via Nate, and now via me. According to his son’s Italian Blogger website, Mallin wrote nineteen novels and over thirty stage and radio plays, in addition to his prolific work as an artist/painter, all before his fiftieth birthday. Thomas Pynchon, now in his late seventies, writes one book approximately every decade and can’t paint shit. Who is the real postmodern hero here? This one from 1970 is more capably summed up in the reviews of the aforementioned revivalists, so let me waste no words drooling a plot synopsis. My mind immediately leapt to late Calvino in terms of the geometric structure, but content-wise the book has more in common with Hubert Selby, Jr. than fantastical formalists. Mallin seems to have his own distinct aesthetic from bunkmates B.S. Johnson and Ann Quin, and as a trivial point, his excessive repetition of his character’s name within the tale has spread into the sorts of whimsical fables MFA graduates publish in Seems New But Isn’t Quarterly—he’s influenced a whole generation of people shit-scared of pronouns. I wonder if Mallin killed himself, completing the triangle of unread-novelist suicides with Johnson and Quin. Seems almost too ridiculous to be true. Are there any avant-garde Brits from the sixties who didn’t off themselves?

11. Benjamin Constant — Adolphe

Constant’s two books in English translation are first-person accounts of his dalliances, sort of Confessions of an Aesthete Under Napoleon the Great, starring Robin Askwith (see Manny for details). His other, The Red Notebook, a 60pp-odd fragment of an abandoned autobiography, is published by Oneworld Classics and hints at the Flaubert forerunner Constant could have been. This one is a “fictionalised” (i.e. names are changed) account of his romp with Madame de Staël, written in the matter-of-fact prose of someone who can’t believe his luck, committing the truth to posterity purely for the bragging rights. As you would.

12. Janice Galloway — Foreign Parts

First, that pathetic excuse for a cover. With this cover, the publishers are saying: “Look! This isn’t a fragmented experimental narrative at all! It’s a light and airy road trip about two crazy ladies discovering their place in the world! It’s not difficult or challenging at all! Beach read! Beach read!” Nice try, Vintage. But Galloway’s second novel is an ambitious narrative flitting between first, second and third POVs, set in holidays past and present. Within these separate narratives, her language closely mimics the internal monologue of her characters Cassie and Nora as they embark upon a desperate voyage into middle age, along the lost highways of their sexuality and female identity, creating a breathtaking and claustrophobic portrait of two complex, literate women struggling (perhaps) with latent homosexuality. Galloway is arguably the strongest female voice in modern Scottish fiction (except Ali Smith) and this novel showcases the breadth of her technical expertise and defiantly original take on the female experience. As far as covers go, the Dalkey Archive edition cover is, naturally, the truest (if not the prettiest).

Secondly, to the six people who “reviewed” this novel unfavourably, no. Sorry, but no. You are not getting away with your lazy, half-cocked dismissals. Rebecca: Galloway is not chicklit. In chicklit books overbearing women with unlikely positions in advertising dream of being fucked senseless by Rochesters with their own TV companies. This is a passionate, witty and moving account of two people who, yes, “became like lesbians with each other by the end” (or, rather, Cassie’s sexuality comes to the fore throughout the trip, leaving her friendship with Nora suspended on a dark note). Comparing the novel to Brokeback Mountain is like comparing a delicious lemon parfait to a mouldy slice of rat-nibbled brie left round the bins. Take a cold shower.

Virginia Proud. To quote: “the journey itself was so blah that it didn’t add to the plot at all.” The journey is the plot—the rhythms of their trip (the practicalities, observations and snippets of small talk) creates the emptiness, frustration and camaraderie that drives this novel. The fragmentation was, to an extent, reminiscent of Michel Butor’s dizzying road trip Mobile, spliced with Ann Quin’s descent Tripticks, refracted through readable, cosier lens of modern lit-fic. If you were “waiting for Rona to kill Cassie in her sleep,” why didn’t you write that ending? Perhaps send to Mrs Galloway, c/o the Proud lady?

Caitlin King. So wrong I barely know where to begin. Try telling a roomful of hardcore feminists all they need in their lives is to be pumped with some penis (or vaginas) to solve their problems and you’ll be a popular dish in the room, best served cold. Next: not all armpits are stinky, not since the invention of showers and deodorants. Clearly, you’re missing out on a whole world of armpit-centred sensuality. Sweat has been a sensual trigger since people started humping in caves. It’s only our modern preoccupation with grooming that has repulsed people against the body’s natural, beautiful odours. Everyone out there, please lick your lover’s armpit tomorrow. You’re in for a treat.

Daisy, you said: “I couldn’t keep track of the characters (and there are only 2!)” Well done! Have faith in yourself, you did it, there are TWO characters in this book! Tomorrow, we learn the letter K! As for this book’s audience being “a white feminist poet in her late twenties,” I am a white non-feminist non-poet in his mid-twenties and I thought this book was swell. You must work in book marketing departments. Geraud: it’s “getting” on each other’s nerves, not “going.” More detail in your review, please. Psirene: “cutting edge hip Ireland writer.” A little tip for you. Never ever confuse Ireland with Scotland. You will be hastily sacrificed at the altar of Seamus McMullan O’Flaherty.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Raymond Queneau & the Amockalypse

Technically I could be “sampling” the poems on this combinatorial generator for another two hundred million years. If the GR (Goodreads) master server is still working in the year 200,002,012, I would like to make a few apologies on behalf of us, The Agents of the Amockalypse.

The texts that put such a strain on the GR server and led to the nature of your present reality—A Game of Thrones and Fifty Shades of Grey—originated in our time. Over the years, these sacred bestsellers acquired so many readers who would pass the texts down through the generations, that the GR server fattened to an area the size of Wyoming. This resulted in the destruction of Wyoming to make room for another billion reviews of these texts and their five-billion-and-counting combinatorial sequels. Gradually, the GR server required an area the size of North America to cope with the demand for the poisonous reviews of the computer generated Fifty Shades et al sequels until North America was assimilated into the GR server, its inhabitants cohabiting with the reviews they’d written on the books they had partially read for some vague sense of belonging.

Reviewers were forced into a perilous digital reality, where Fifty Shades reviews constantly streamed around them in a sort of passive-aggressive, sneery talking-head opinion matrix. Blunt dismissals of the texts’ literary merits told in homespun, telling-it-like-it-is sarcasm killed thousands of citizens. Unfunny gifs of movie clips and lolcats blinded the entire state of Ohio. Deadly, unmerited likes flew like scimitars in the air, mauling people in unimaginably horrific ways, but mainly straight through the gullet. Many drowned in page after page of excruciating analyses of these “worthless texts” written by people who’d spent a month of their reading time proving systematically these texts were worthless, aware of their making millions for the author and assisting the publicity department in their “see what all the fuss is about” campaign but devoted to making “personal studies” of these texts under the guise of cultural research regardless, as though blind to basic logic in their fact-gathering frenzies.

Locked in these prisons of endless, babbling opinion, all speech broke down into criticisms of these texts, so ordinary commands such as “pass the salt” became “WTF that Christian is a pig” until ordinary meanings became impossible. Speech was soon abolished. As the GR server expanded across the Atlantic, mass suicides were popular. Those that remain today, those that may catch a fleeting glance of this apology as it streams past their eyes and crashes into a bilious outpouring for Fifty Shades #672,822,828,727, will hopefully take some comfort in this apology in their hopeless world. And finally complete these poems.

Friday, 20 July 2012


To make this blog post, simply pour a pint of water onto your keyboard. 

P.S. New piece, The Four Seasons of Michael Michael, is up at Issue 2 of Laptop Lit.