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I’ve been Sean.

An Assessment of Every Single Nobel Prize Winner Ever, Excluding Laureates of Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Medicine and Peace — Introduction

You know what interests me most? Me.

With that established, I think it’s time to unveil another new feature (Feel free to write complaining about how many new features get started around here without ever being seen again: I might run a feature based on the correspondence). To celebrate Elfriede Jelinek’s triumph, we’ll be running a series called “An Assessment of Every Single Nobel Prize Winner Ever, Excluding Laureates of Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Medicine and Peace” (I will try to deal with the prize in Phrenology, awarded between 1901 and 1907, but Literature needs doing first.)

I understand if you prefer the wieldier titles “Who the Fuck Is Selma Lagerlof?”, “Parade of LNRBD’s Ignorance”, or “A Guide to Generating Hate Mail from Continental Europe”

I was going to divide this up into decades, but instead settled on a more me-based system: each part will contain as many names as I can handle before I get bored. Me!

As you know, the Nobel Prize goes to the best person at literature in the world who hasn’t won it before and isn’t dead. I gather they use a points-based scoring system to establish who is the best, based on the following criteria:

  1. Number of Books Written
  2. Dignity
  3. Size of vocab
  4. Usefulness to the economic and political interests of Sweden
  5. Length of sentences
  6. Likelihood of doing anything worthwhile before death (inverse)
  7. Swimsuit round
  8. Interest in Totalitarian Government (point allocation varies according to period and item 4, above)
  9. Beard and Spelling

Therefore I’ve set up my own simplified system, based on the following categories, all scored out of ten:

How Well Do I know You? Zero for an author who I’ve only ever seen on Nobel Laureate lists. Ten won’t be reserved as a platonic mark: it’ll represent Yeats. Interested readers can write in for details of how much knowledge that actually means. Bear in mind that I’ll think you a loon if you do ask, and may mock you in public.

How Much Do I Like You? If an author gets over five in the previous category, they’re scored here.

How Likely Am I to Give Enough of a Shit About You to Find out More About You or Read One of Your Books Before I Die? An author scoring under 5 in the first category is marked here. In some cases, such as Bellow, where my knowledge is less than a 5, but I have read at least one novel, understand ‘another one of your books’. An author scoring exactly five can be judged in either category, depending on my mood.

Beard and Spelling ‘Spelling’ in most cases will be based on how easy the author’s name is to spell. Points will be deducted for accented letters and transliterations from foreign character sets that could lead to confusion; however, foreign authors will score more points for having an easy-to-spell name than anglophone writers, because it’s harder for them. I do recognise that using ‘Beard’ as a criterion is idiotically patriarchal, so I’ll grade female laureates on hotness.

In summary: everyone gets a score out of thirty, based on three categories: two subjective, and one empirical. This will allow me to establish who is the best writer in the world since 1901, which I think we’ll all agree is a valuable critical service, and should settle a lot of arguments once and for all.

We begin later, or tomorrow.

So, There’s a Mountain, and it’s Magic… No, Stuck

Hello. How are you?

Not so great.

Is that the case?

It’s so.

I’m sorry for your troubles. What is wrong?

I’m bored, and making rent’s a pain.

Common afflictions. Anything else?

There’s a girl, and you know how it is…

I do.

Can’t tell whether whether I ought make a big move or not. I mean she’s terrific and all, I’d say we get on in and out of bed, but circumstances aren’t really right, and anyway, she’s hell hard to read. And nowadays, it’s not even like I trust myself, given…

I’m a little bored.

I’m sorry.

There is no need for an apology. Self-indulgence afflicts the best of us. Shall we play a game? It may ease your mind of its cares for a short time.

Worth a go. What you got?

Let me think…

She is great – smart, funny, pretty as anything – but I act like a…

A-ha! I have it!

Let’s hear it.

I am going to name novels that you read ten to fifteen years ago, and have not looked at since. You must give me a summary of them.

How’s that a game?

I agree that it has neither distinct goals nor a competitive element. Think of it as a distraction rather than a true game.

Okay, let’s play.

First. Tess of the Durbervilles.

There’s a peasanty girl called Tess Darbyfield, and she’s very hot…

Are you thinking of the picture of Natassia Kinski that was on the cover of the edition that you had?


That is allowed. Go on.

She gets picked up, possibly in a cart by one of two men. There are two men in the novel, one of whom is called Angel Something, and the other is Alec Durbeyville. I think Angel is a vicar, or a parson. He’s a good guy. Maybe. Alec is an aristo, and takes Tess up. She maybe…

Would you be kind enough to do me a favour?


Excise your maybes. They’re redundant in this exercise.

I see. I’ll try. To continue: she goes to his house and meets his mother. She finds that they’re probably distantly related, which gives her father the idea that he’s an aristocrat. That has a bad end. Some cows eat some garlic and that makes the milk and the butter bad. I think Tess makes butter. Is she a dairymaid?

You’ve read the novel, not me.

She’s a dairymaid. Then there’s the middle section of the novel, and she’s torn between the two men. A barn burns. Though that might be The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, which is by Meredith. Please don’t ask me about that. There’s definitely fire, though. They go somewhere, a seaside resort beginning with ‘B’, and there’s a letter which she slips under one of the men’s door, only it goes under the carpet inside, so he doesn’t get it. Then someone dies, and you see the blood through the ceiling of the room below. Or it stains a mattress. Definitely blood. Tess is dead. The end.

An excellent summary. Just what I was hoping for.

I enjoyed that! Again, again!

Very well. Let us hear a summary of Money, by Martin Amis

But I know that backwards! I read it two or three times!

We’ll see

So, there’s a man called John Self. I think. He goes to America, because he’s looking for funding for a film. He plays chess with Martin Amis in a pub. It starts off with him looking at some porn? I think he wonders if the male protagonist has to live on yoghurt and milk to produce so much…

I understand

So, he’s got a nice flat and girlfriend and car, but he loses it all, and the guy he’s depending on in America, who’s really mysterious, well it’s all some kind of set-up. Does he get beaten up in a pub with a sock full of either oranges or pool balls? He definitely tries to rape his girlfriend, and there’s a scene where he’s on the red-eye, because he’s going back and forth to America a lot. Does Self have a wig? Is it his father who’s set all this up? I’m having a little trouble keeping it apart from London Fields in my head.

You know this novel backwards, remember

This is a little embarrassing.

I find it interesting. You seem to remeber broad outlines and very specific details. You barely speak in terms of characters. I have no way of knowing whether this is unique to you, or the usual way of recalling literature. How about Mary Barton?

Oh no. Isn’t the first part just a sequence of industrial accidents? People lose arms and everything’s miserable. There’s an autodidact, though, who’s pretty cool. I’d say there’s a romance between a factory owner type….

No educated guesses at the plot. Nostromo?

It’s set in South America. Some people take a boat out on the dark sea, and there’s some gold. That’s it.

The Moonstone?

There’s a diamond that’s stolen from somewhere in India. it has a flaw that can be seen to represent the missing centre of the multi-voiced narrative – and, as the Moonstone is object of financial and sacred desire, the flaw also represents the instability of these…

I sense that you’ve looked at this work academically. That makes your response tiresome, and may be cheating. Shall we try Emma?

I know Clueless too well to make that one fair.

Of course. We seem to have come to fallow ground. It may be best if I leave, and think of fresh victims for this game. I have decided to call our diversion ‘An Idiot Remembers’. I hope this does not offend you.

Not at all!

One more thing. It strikes me that your agitation over this potential belle lodges in your head more than your heart. You do not have the demeanour of a man languishing in love’s thrall. She causes you no true pain, and you should be wary of acting in remembered passionate ways when the truest feelings are absent. Harm will come on both sides, and tears may fall because of your mind’s desire for romantic diversion.

With ya! Laters!

Until the next time, friend.

Also Noted, 5-11-2004

Look at me! I’m continuing a feature! A round-up of new UK releases for Friday, November 5th (list taken from Bookkoob.)

Peter Porter
Porter’s latest collection is a tribute to the 1987 Sega Arcade Game. The double sestina ‘Insert Coin’ has been especially admired. Porter recently received a Forward Prize for Super Street Fighter II: Championship Edition.

The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals
Jonathan Kingdon
Extremely controversial chapter on Homo Sapiens.

Employment, Trade Union Renewal and the Future of Work
Paul Stewart
Allegorical novel. The three titular brothers fight over the legacy of their father (‘System of Monetary Exchange’). Oddly compelling.

An Elizabeth Gaskell Chronology
Graham Handley
Attempt to record the history of the universe from Mrs. Gaskell’s perspective. Extract: “c.1040 B.C.E. Eastern China: Military defeat of Shang dynasty ushers in beginning of Western Zhou era. No relevance to Mrs. Gaskell.” Author has claimed discovery of Flores Man makes entire book redundant.

Pitching My Tent
Anita Diamant
A study of 1950s sexual euphemisms.

Sax’s Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials
Richard J. Lewis
The section on teratogenic qualities of enalapril maleate is unusual. It simply argues that the book should be called Lewis’s Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials. Earlier editions are to be preferred.

The Peregrine Falcon
Derek Ratcliffe; Donald Watson
The Peregrine Falcon made the Kessel Run in fifteen parsecs.

Wolves Eat Dogs
Martin Cruz Smith
ExposÈ of football sex scandals in the West Midlands. What did Derek Dougan do?

Bond Girls Are Forever
Maryam D’Abo; John Cork
Aesthetic treatise. Claims that beauty is manifestation of enduring and unchanging forms which underlie the universe, and that Bond Girls offer us immediate access to an experience of this divine. Chapter on Maddy Smith is persuasive; goes astray in its treatment of Bambi and Thumper as shadows of the demiurge; D’Abo confuses Santayana and Santana at points.

Madam Secretary
Madeleine K. Albright
Literary world frustrated at the success of light S&M pornography: still they publish it.

The Changing Face of Economics
David C. Colander; Richard P.F. Holt; J.Barkley Rosser
The changing face of economics.

The Changing Face of Economics
J.Barkley Rosser; Richard P.F. Holt; David Colander
The face of economics has changed

I Could Get On Late Review! Then I’d Show That Paulin!

A few years ago myself and a friend had an idea for a book. We both agreed that it would be a terrific, horrific cultural potboiler. It was going to be called The New Global Cool, and it would be one of those ‘identifying a generation’ books that take a load of cultural reference points and string them together on a thread spun from the very laziest generalisations and assumptions.

The book was going to claim that there was a ‘new global cool’ among the generation just below ours (let’s say teens through mid-late twenties). There was always going to be lots of Internet stuff (file-sharing especially), and probably a chunk of post-no-logo protest-ideology blather. The core of it, though, was going to be about the arts: so in our chapter on the literature of TNGC, we’d cover Murakami, Houllebecq, Eggers’ lot (inc. Lady Zadie) maybe Lethem, Pahluniak, Neal Stephenson, Delillo as a precursor – it didn’t really matter if they had nothing much in common, since we were sure we could come up with something to glue them together.

You can write this yourself, right? You can see how it’s not totally arbitrary, but lets you get away with murderous conflation. I’m reconstructing rather than remembering, but for music you could go Radiohead and Wilco, for films you might have Battle Royale or Donnie Darko. Buffy‘s in TV, I guess. Art could be the other Murakami. Throw in Matthew Barney too. We could do Zizek as a philosopher. Maybe John Gray: although we’re drifting pretty far from cool there, it wouldn’t really matter – we’d ignore the fact that TNGC generation didn’t read him, just as we’d ignore any history that didn’t fit our arguments.

I don’t remember discussing this, but we’d have to put in a chapter on sex to help it sell: its actual audience wouldn’t be the (essentially made-up) people we’re talking about, but a slightly older crowd who are scared that a)they’re out of touch and b)younger people are having more fun than them.

(Hmm. that a), b) formulation is getting to be a tic. I’m leaving it in so I can wonder if it’s mine or a general mannerism of internet prose. It’s like the fossil of a formal joke.)

We never thought too hard about what we’d extrude to pad the references – something, I guess, about going beyond Postmodernism, search for values in an age of uncertainty, avant-garde and mainstream together at last, distinctions between high and low culture collapsed. You can write that yourself too, I imagine.

We felt incredibly dirty having hypothesised this. It felt like a mean and dishonest critical project, clerical treason, all integrity ablated, a simoniacal betrayal selling culture’s specificity, variety and complexity for a sequence of radically foolish assumptions and rushed-off conclusions that would peacock around trailing gaudy imitations of meaning: in short – and I hesitate to use the most hurtful adjective of all – it was DeBotton.

It’s only the idea of the book (and, of course, the BBC4 telly series that would inevitably follow) that gets my bile up: I mean to imprecate neither the works I’ve or listed nor those who love them; I like a fair few myself. Even arguing through the ideas is obviously cool: it’s just doing it in the 4th-Estate, Weekend-Supplement way that disgusts.

I mention this now because the other day I mentioned I was obsessed by Jason Parkes, Britain’s Number One Amazon Reviewer; and I think what freaked me was how much he resembled the (made-up) subjects of TNGC. To write the thing, I could just go through his reviews, refer to something he likes, then think of some way to fit it into TNGC paradigm (I just looked now, in fact, and thought ‘Of course we’d feature Bill Hicks! He’d lead off the comedy chapter!’)

This sounds mean. It’s not meant to. I can’t help it. I must have a mean heart that I can’t help.

Anyway, as I believe I was saying, if any major publishing house wants The New Global Cool, we can knock it out in time for Christmas. Finish that Thesis, Matt – I hear 4th Estate calling!

We’re using pseudonyms, right?

I’ve Just Joined a Book-Burning Group

That’s it.

It’s over.

I’ve seen the worst article on books in the history of the world.

I don’t have much to say. I want to quote sections, but it’s symphonically bad. We meet an ex-lit student who lazed through his course, but has miraculously reformed:

Martin has been reading his old modern-literature course books ó James Kelman, Katherine Dunn and Irvine Welsh among them ó and passing them on to the other members of his book group in the fashionable London enclave of Hoxton. ìItís my new favourite club,î he says, with the kind of enthusiasm he might once have reserved for a night at Fabric or Nag Nag Nag.

We all see how this is bad: Hoxton isn’t a good sign (I’m willing to apologise for writing this from Brick Lane), and then those club references. Ick. Trying too hard. But as this theme is introduced, the next (we’ll call it ‘straw men and unsubstantiated assumptions’) enters as an elegant counterpoint:

Martin isnít alone. In the past couple of years, the once fusty and elitist world of literature has undergone a makeover: books have not only become a little less bookish, they have actually become hip. For a jaded generation of late twenty- and early thirtysomethings, literature is filling the slot once occupied by nightclubs, records, trucker caps and magazines. These neoliterati are just like any dudes and dudettes slouching on the Tube, wearing Converse All Stars, with scuffed hair and bulging pupils ó only theyíre more likely to be engrossed in the first-edition Anthony Burgess paperback they found on eBay than the latest issue of Dazed & Confused.

You see? The ‘straw man’ theme enters with ‘elitist and fusty’, but then we return to ‘iffy signifiers of hipness’ (and as a side issue, if anyone wants to send a diagram illustrating the shape of a slot for holding ‘nightclubs, records, trucker caps and magazines’, I’d be grateful. But I guess if you’ve got a slot in which a nightclub can be accommodated, the other elements shouldn’t be a squeeze).

But I can’t stop quoting, because then the author introduces a third strain of badness, even absent ‘neoliterati’. This we shall call ‘perverse, ill-informed and confusing illustration’. Why are they reading a first edition? A first-edition paperback? What does that mean? Is it valuable? If so, why are they reading it on the tube? Wouldn’t a normal reading copy make more sense? Which Anthony Burgess novel?

I can’t quote anymore. It’s depressing me.

O.K. One more bit. Here’s the ‘straw man’ theme with third party backing:

ìReaders and publishers have undergone a seismic shift over the last few years,î says the hot literary agent Johnny Geller. ìA new generation of authors like David Mitchell, Hari Kunzru and Zadie have become the sort of people that readers could see themselves going out for a drink with.

i) ‘hot’
ii) Yup. It’s a radical change from the bad old days when writers stood distant upon Parnassus, unapproachable by us mortals. I’m thinking here of the frigid majesty of Nick Hornby, Amis (pere and fils), and so many others…

WHAT DO YOU MEAN? ‘Author you could go for a drink with’ is pretty much the definition of the sales-succesful post-war white male English novelist. (and it’s arguably a bad thing – the English tendency to veer away from the experimental is wrapped up with this good-naturedness. Don’t confuse it with soho-itis)

A predictable disclaimer: I like a lot of the writers mentioned in this piece (second to none in my admiration for Mitchell); most of the rest I don’t know about. I maybe shouldn’t be so hard on PR, but it feels a long way from everything that’s terrific about British writing at the moment. Has this author ever read a book?

Field Report: Famous Seamus, Scarey Carey, and an un-chic Greek

The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. That’s a mouthful no-one’s going to enjoy. Like chewing a mixture of ashes and dogshit.

I’m here to see Seamus Heaney and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke read. It’s in the Sheldonian Theatre. I’m on floor level; can’t see up to the Balconies properly. Reminds me of The Rock. “Your unit is covered from an elevated position, Commander.” Hope no-one has any kind of assault rifle. That would be bad. They could take out a Nobel laureate. That would show those imperialist Swedes.

Okay, straight up. I have no fucking clue who Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke is. Like everyone else, I’m here for Heaney.

Audience report? Everything you’d expect: distinguished academics (though I’m having a hard time spotting Paulin & the rest of the Oxford Murphia); serious-looking young men; those keen girls drawn in by the dazzle of poetry, who have luminous hair and a complexion that just makes you feel terrifically melancholy about the grubbiness of the rest of life. Once again, I cannot but recall The Rock: “Losers always whine about doing their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen”.

To my surprise, there appear to be middle-aged PRs here. I didn’t know they existed. This punctures my Logan’s Run theory of publicity girls, which means my fantasy of rescuing an especially attractive one from her too-youthful doom also must deflate. Goodbye, Chloe. I never knew you.

John Carey sternly tells us to switch off our mobiles, and not to move until the poets have left the building. I feel like I’m being told off. He introduces the poets. I feel like I’m being told off about Heaney. I remember his lectures. It was like being told off about Milton.

Heaney starts to read. It’s a little disappointing.

He’s tricky nowadays. Nothing since Seeing Things has really grabbed me. He feels a little too much like an institution. When you hear him deliver his own work, even the early stuff, it feels a bit too right – Heaney looks like a poet should, and sounds like a poet should, and it’s all a little soporific. It’s hard to express properly. A contrast – a pair of friends chose one of Heaney’s early poems to be read at their wedding: an uncle of one friend delivered it, I think, and it knocked me sideways.

Perhaps he should play up his vocal resemblance to Frank Carson? This could enliven his delivery, and would lighten the burden of dignity. Those Nobels drag you down.

We get told off about Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, then she reads. Looks like a short Frank Zappa, has a thick greek accent. Long pauses when she can’t find the poems she wants in her book. Not fun.

The poets get to talk about translation a bit. They are, of course, like pigs in shit. I wish people would shut up about the mysteries, complexities and tensions of translation. Here’s a fucking Larousse. Get to work.

Another Heaney reading – from his new version of Antigone, The Burial at Thebes. It’s okay, but I’ve still got a sceptical head on. Anglo-saxon words, firm lines – just put in a dialect word and tick the last box.

Thinking about it, there’s more to be said about Heaney and The Rock. There’s that odd, jarring moment in the film when one of the mercenaries, an Irish-American, accuses Connery of being an ‘English Bastard’. Mistaken cultural identities, the clash of celticisms, the ambiguities of racial histories. There’s a book in that. If you get a deal, give me five per cent. Here’s the title: “The Turf and The Rock”.

We close on his elegy for Ted Hughes. That wakes me up. It’s the best moment of the afternoon.

Judging the Booker by its Covers, Part Two

Sorry this took a little long. I was sidetracked by a discussion of one of the Belle De Jour candidates. It all got very heated. “Look,” I said, “I don’t care whether she writes it or not. And I don’t care what trade she plied after leaving Oxford. That’s an old rumour, we’ve all heard it, and it has nothing at all to do with her possible authorship, so I don’t see why you’re bringing it up. And FYI? Tradition dictates that the words ‘high class’ are used when describing her old profession. Though you’re permitted to substitute or insert ‘international’ for more of a 70s flavour.”

It’s like the 30s! Who wants to know what Tony’s saying about what Evelyn told Maurice about Nancy’s saying that awful thing about Wystan?

Enough popbitchicity for today. On with our smash-hit feature “Judging The Booker By Its Covers”

round two.jpg

The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst

Boooooooring! This says nothing – NOTHING! Cloud Atlas, as we’ve discussed, makes a mistake with its cover by being hideous; the other favourite screws up by saying nothing at all. It sounds like an interesting novel – politics, sex, satire, plentiful larks. But if we try and judge it by its cover, turns out that it’s about some blurry stuff seen through a wonky gate. I also don’t think that there’s a line of beauty in the picture. Some of the wonky gate’s curves kind of describe one, but it could be a bit more explicit. I just don’t like it. I think it thinks its saying something deep through vagueness – “some of us are behind the gate, oohh eden paradise, lies beyond, but exile, light in the distance think of it as England, summer gardens, innocence lost”, but in fact all it’s saying is “wonky, blurry”. Inoffensive is the best we can say for this picture, and that offends me. So, BZZZT! You lose.

The Electric Michaelangelo – Sarah Hall

I’m not wild on that copperplatey font for the title, and the sepia’s no thrill. Why is the woman on the front sitting on a table and stretching? Is it because she’s being attacked by a giant moth? It’s an odd response to a moth attack. Maybe they’re parasitic mind-control moths. Y’see that’s a premise that interests me – but I’d say the design of this cover is misleading, and it’s not actually a book about giant moths that attack people. If I’m wrong, and it is, then the title’s awful. It should be called ‘Moths’, or, at a pinch, ‘The Moths’. So, is the woman an Electric Michaelangelo? I don’t think so. In the end, this cover says the following: “You miss Angela Carter. I miss Angela Carter. We all miss Angela Carter. Why don’t you come in, we’ll have a nice chat about sexuality, story telling and the body, then you can write an essay on me? Okay?” I wanted this one to do better, I really did, but the longer I looked, the more it irked me. Pardon me? What’s that? You want to know what this button does? Let me show you. It makes this noise – BZZZT! You lose.

I’ll Go To Bed At Noon – Gerard Woodward

Literalism! This appears to be someone going to bed, possibly at noon (I hope the photographer was some kind of obsessive perfectionist who insisted on shooting at noon. No earlier, no later.) I think I get the idea – It looks quite English (although I wouldn’t be shocked to find it was from Canada or New Zealand), kind of odd, some kind of retro business going on. I like the fact that it’s not too centred: no border, odd cropping, action at the top. I like the way title and author are on separate steps, and follow the line of the stairs – understated but neat. I don’t absolutely like that green, but it more-or-less works here. The whole thing is a little dated – it feels Pulp circa 1995 – but as far as book covers go, it hasn’t been done to death, and frankly, we’re getting pretty desperate for a winner. I therefore declare that the First Annual Booker Cover Prize (and thus almost certainly the Booker Prize proper) goes I’ll Go To Bed At Noon by Gerard Woodward!

Judging the Booker by its Covers, Part One

This is round one of ‘Judging the Booker by its covers’, where we decide who’ll win the Man Booker by looking at their covers and facetiously bantering.

Actually, I bet that’s exactly what the real judging’s like.

And yes, since you ask, I did come up with the idea for this post after thinking of its title.

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!

round one.jpg

The Master – Colm Toibin Does its first job well – the classiness of the cover tells you this not a novel about the Doctor Who villain (though might that not be a useful audience to cultivate? Don’t Doctor Who and the works of Henry James have striking similarities – the interest in negotiating an alien culture; doctor’s real name as missing middle of ‘Figure In the Carpet’, etc; James’s psychological concentration revealing that tardis-like, we are larger inside than outside; and Cybermen.) Classy, classy, classy – that’s what this cover says to me: “please give me the Booker,” it says, “I promise I won’t be picked by Richard and Judy’s Book Club; but I also promise to sit quietly in 3-for-2 offers in Waterstones. I will neither cause a fuss, nor vulgarise myself. I am a good child. Like me, TLS.” But you know what? We don’t respect that kind of polite desperation. Plus gaelic names look a bit weird in dignified fonts. BZZZT! You lose.

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell Just hideous. Yuk. The entire thing seems to be composed of marginal, gross colours. The saddest story I know: one of the finest authors of his generation writes a book that truly establishes him, puts him up there: he goes to his publisher, drops off the manuscript, but, while sauntering out the door, probably pretty fucking pleased with himself, he makes his one mistake: he’s forgotten to say “no maroon”. BZZT! You lose!

Bitter Fruit – Achmat Dangor Oh this is good. This does its job. First of all, it’s literal – ‘Bitter Fruit’ has fruit on its cover. We have to assume they’re bitter, I suppose. They don’t look it. For the paperback, they perhaps could maybe make them lickable and infuse the cover with some kind of bitter taste. That could lead to scenes in bookshops. Good publicity, though, so you can have that idea on me Atlantic. The literalism is useful – it makes sure you don’t think it’s a novel about a poisonous gay man in the 1950s; instead it lets you know that if you’re excited by cultures that get more sunshine than England, then this is the boy for you. However, I’m not really drawn to this palette, and there’s a still artiness makes it seem a little worthy – a self-consciously Guardiany artifact. Makes me suspect the prose is going called to be called ‘sensuous’, too. So, tempting, but BZZT! You lose!

J.T. Leroy at Foyles

This is a London Line piece from Spring 2004. A volatile topic. Despite the fact I’m not skeptical enough about LeRoy, I don’t think I make myself look a div here (yes, I am vain enough for that to be a concern). His/her books weren’t as awful as I thought they would be. Not my cup of tea, but not awful.

At Foyle’s last Monday, JT Leroy gave a reading. He’s written three
books, Sarah, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, and Harold’s
End. They’re all pretty good – Flannery O’Connor Southern Gothic
bubbled through William S. Burroughs’ outlaw transgression, all mixed
up with a touch of tenderness missing from most hipster fiction.

You wouldn’t know this from reading about Leroy. All you’d find out is
the following: he was a child prostitute; Madonna likes him; he wears
wigs; Liv Tyler likes him; he’s been raped a lot; Juliette Lewis likes
him; his mother was a whore; Pink likes him.

Leroy mostly doesn’t do readings – in fact, it’s rumoured that he
doesn’t exist, and is the creation of Dennis Cooper, another
transgressive US novelist – so the gallery at Foyle’s is jammed. It’s
not an attentive literary crowd: rather, it’s the Royal Twat of the
Year Show. A taxonomist of shitwaddery would delight in these
specimens. Is that divtard wearing a kilt? Why is that 40-year-old
woman made up like a minipop? Is that your hair or an infection? It’s
a fashion-plate bestiary, a catalogue of every art-school monster that
can crawl from the Hoxton dank. The sponsor is i-D magazine.

First of all Leroy’s friends – minor actors, pop stars and drag
queens – read passages from his books. Beth Orton has a go. She says
she’s never read a book by J.T. Leroy, and races through a passage.
The trembling flower is warmly applauded for her efforts.

What comes next is predictable. A cultish ‘creative’ is cooed over by
famous women who desire an edge of outsider literary chic. Who’s
eyeing up the bandwagon? Of course! It’s Marianne Fucking Faithfull,
the patron saint of parasitic dilettantes! As she reads, I note that
time has exercised his habitual cruelty: she sounds like Marianne
Faithfull, but looks like an extra from Corrie.

Leroy takes the stage. He looks like a miniature Wayne Hussey in a
blonde wig. He reads quietly. Extremely quietly. I’m not certain he’s
reading aloud. He answers some questions very quietly. I wonder if I
need my ears syringed. The best I can tell you is that he thinks
“Barnabas makes chin moggle doll.” I may have misheard.

Oddly, I end up worried for him. His work appeals to the emotionally
underdeveloped, like rock stars and actresses. Some of his fans want
to be near damage, want to be damaged themselves. They seem to think
that there’s a correlation between suffering, authenticity and art.
This fashion crowd like to see blood – they don’t understand
understatement. It’s a poisonous environment, and I hope the scene
doesn’t suffocate or manacle his odd gift.

On the other hand, you can buy a jt leroy t-shirt for £10. The boy’s
onto a good hustle. He can probably look after himself.