November 22, 2007

Balloon Boy

Pynchon pulls off a remarkable sleight of hand in "Against The Day". Having spent one thousand pages hinting that the book is in accord with the basic idea of the Edwardian era as an Age of Innocence destroyed by the Great War, he spends the last 80 pages (the last 128 pages if you want to be accurate about these things) building something altogether more moving and powerful: a book not about innocence lost, but innocence retained. Maybe no more than you should expect from a sixties post-beat trapped in the court of George W, but a really beautiful statement of principle and intent nonetheless. The resistance not just to the vicious corporatism of the Scarsdale Vibes of this world but to the easy nihilism of the tired Leftist and the scared liberal, the call to (loving) arms, the final belief in solidarity and friendship, for all these reasons "Against The Day" is the most uplifting book I've read this year, in fact for years. It makes me laugh to think that some rubber-skulled critics could only see the hot air and not the clear skies above.

September 26, 2007

Still More on Bolaño

I read "Amulet" by Roberto Bolano over the summer in the US New Directions edition because no one has chosen to publish it in the UK yet. There's something interesting about this fact.

"Amulet" is a first person narrative told by Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan living in Mexico City and the self-proclaimed "Mother of Mexican Poetry". The key event in the book is the occupation by Mexican troops of the university in 1968. Auxilio is on the loo at the time (reading poetry) and is missed in the troops' round up. She stays in the toilet without food for the 12 days of the occupation and becomes legendary because of it. The rest of the book mashes together the memories of her life after that date with the hallucinations she has as she lies on the bathroom floor. In doing so, one becomes the other and she sees a version of her future (which has since become her past) as she lies there. Through this device, time in the book collapses in on itself in such a way that her final vision (the youth of Latin America marching into a pit singing a beautiful "ghost-song") becomes (I'd guess the idea is) eternal - or, strictly speaking, timeless. (If there's a difference?)

There's obviously something about Bolano which makes UK publishers nervous, so we are gradually edging towards his more esoteric (by which I mean his less straightforwardly realist) works. We started with "By Night In Chile" and "Distant Star," proceeded to the short stories of "Last Evenings On Earth" and now "The Savage Detectives" has just been released (which, admittedly, I haven't read yet). They are all excellent books, but so far the second half of "Amulet" is the most remarkable thing I've read by the man. I hope this side of his writing doesn't get lost in an attempt to present him as a less spiky, odd, difficult and beautiful writer than he actually is.

(On the other hand, is this just standard paranoid 'underground' - or in my case, wannabe-underground - thinking? Perhaps there's a perfectly good reason involving rights or the difficulty of selling what is a very short novel? Perhaps the editor in question thinks "Amulet" is so important that he/she wants to lay the groundwork for it in the UK? And is the reason I think I prefer it actually influenced by the fact that it's relatively unavailable over here? All I can offer in my defence is that it isn't because of the cover - which is absolutely horrible).

September 18, 2007

Viva Vulgarity!

Fiddling around with the idea that sections of "Against The Day" are built out of a series of pastiches of specific works of Victorian/Edwardian science fiction (the Vormance Expedition episode built from the opening of M.P.Shiel's "The Purple Cloud", the time machine sections paying open homage to H.G.Wells, the sand-ships something straight from Verne) I thought I'd better see if anyone on the net had already suggested this. Which, of course, they had. But in the process I found Michael Moorcock's review of the book, which was not only immensely entertaining but also contended that, talking in general, "the novel [will] not die if it [can] rediscover vulgarity". I'm no fan of polite books, or books that are sophisticated for the sake of sophistication, or novels that only deal with the common failings of "uncommon" (i.e. middle class intellectual) men. So I was rather taken with this manifesto. It's worth remembering that "Ulysses" was condemned as "base, vulgar, vicious and depraved" and that both "Slaughterhouse Five"and "The Grapes of Wrath" (along with many others) have at various times been cited, burned and banned in American states for their "vulgar" language. A little like complaining that the music is "too loud" when it's just too unfamiliar, I wonder if the accusation of vulgarity in literature is applied whenever a book has the power to shake its reader. Which may be a different point to the one Moorcock was making, but adds up to the conclusion that wherever you see the word "vulgar" being bandied around, there's probably something worth reading.

July 12, 2007

Nufer Madness

Yes, it's official, I have a new favourite author. Step forward please, Mr Doug Nufer, Seattle-based purveyor of ultra-constrained genius. I can't remember exactly how I came across it, but there's a fantastic interview with Nufer on Madinkbeard's blog and having read it, I had to get hold of one of his books.

The easiest to come across in the UK was "Negativeland," a regressive road trip following former back stroke champion Ken Honochick as he doesn't discover the meaning of life. The chapters count down from -6 to 0 and every sentence in the book contains a negative. But if you didn't know you wouldn't care. It reads brilliantly. It's sad and elegaic as well as funny and clever and it says much more about America and contemporary life in general than any novel Tom Wolfe ever wrote.

His other books include "Never Again," a 200 page text in which no word is ever repeated (and I thought I was clever when I sustained this for the full 100-odd words of a flash fiction...) and "On The Roast," in which "On The Road" is warped into the corporate memoir of a character eerily like the founder of Starbucks (and of which, Nufer reports, Harry Mathews said that it was really great that Nufer had so much time on his hands). I think there's a CD called "The Office," too, but I haven't been able to find out too much about that yet.

And, just to add the final stroke of fortuitous beauty (though probably not for Mr Nufer, who spent years trying to get his work into print), all four were published in the same year by four different publishers.

July 11, 2007

Beardless Wonder

Kindly interview posted up at 3:AM magazine by Charlotte Stretch. I think I am possibly the worst interviewee ever - setting off rattling along on an anecdote, forgetting the end of the anecdote, forgetting what the anecdote related to or why it was important, or even the basics of what anything I've written is supposed to be "about" (people don't like it, I'm told,if you say "nuffink"). So it actually could have made me out to be a lot more of a twat than it does. Praise be.

July 04, 2007

Suffolk Music

I'm a last minute addition to the bill for the Latitude Festival on Friday July 13th (hmm, yeah, okay, I only just noticed that...). Last year I was on the estimable Vox 'n' Roll ticket and this year I return with Book Slam. I have no idea what time or really exactly where, but I know I will be speaking too fast alongside child-god and stablemate Richard Milward and Brit Soul star Mpho Skeef. Lawdamercy.

June 26, 2007

The Incremental Triumph of Me (or something)

I've just posted up section 32 of "The Last Ape House," which is also the last section of Part 1 of the story. What this means is that if you read everything I've posted so far, it almost makes sense. From tomorrow (or the day after) we have a new character introduced and continue our glacial advance on the denouement. Be sure to subscribe (for free, wallet-lockers) to receive the daily bulletins via RSS or email. And abandon yourself to infinite regress by reading about what you're reading at Dazed Digital.

June 07, 2007

Buy this book!

Just to reiterate, in case you don't yet feel like it's been pushed down your throat, it's called "Clear Water", it has a bikini-clad, Thatcherite-haired pin-up on the cover and reading it will make you feel nervous, uncomfortable and queasy. You lucky bastards.

You can get it from Amazon or in various 3-for-2 and Buy-One-Get-One-Half-Price offers in your local giant Borderstones. It's even in some of the indies... Anyway, buy it, read it, hate it and return to leave me unhelpful comments.

May 22, 2007

New Direction...

I've decided that I'm a pretty poor blogger. I don't really want to share my most intimate thoughts and secrets. And despite considering myself a fairly opinionated person, I don't seem to want to offer opinions either. Some of my links have been good, but besides that, I don't think I'm playing to my strengths here!

Which is why I've just launched The Last Ape House.

"The Last Ape House" is a story I've been working at on and off since 1999. I think parts of it are quite good. It comes in very small chunks and is accompanied by colourful pictures. So the idea is that I will publish a section of the story every day (or as near as I can manage) either until I reach the end or until I reach the point where I haven't written any more (I have about 70 days grace before things become serious).

Vernaland will continue to be updated, but maybe more irregularly and more on a news-and-information basis rather than a thrashing-around-for-significance basis. So, please, have a look...

May 18, 2007

Against The Day, For Perec, Ambivalent about Sarcasm, Undecided about Conclusions

I’m still reading “Against The Day,” which is perfectly written and full of so much life, humour, silliness and low-minded seriousness but which does have one problem. It’s too big. I don’t mean too long, too all-encompassing, or too ambitious. I mean it’s too big to go in my bag. It’s bigger than a brick and weighs about as much. It’s bloody massive. The result of this is that I never take it out with me and only read it in bed (where I’m often – due to drink, tiredness, etc etc – not at my best to enjoy it fully). As a consequence, I keep picking up smaller books to read on the bus or tube or train (which is where a lot of my reading gets done). I had a little Beckett re-reading phase (“Ill Seen Ill Said” and “Worstward Ho!”) and then this week I bought myself “Bartleby & Co” by Enrique Vila-Matas.

From what I’ve read so far, “Bartleby & Co” is a very ingenious book about not writing books – which actually states, in a way, that the ultimate modern book is the one that isn’t written (consciously, deliberately). The central character decides to write footnotes to an imaginary text about all the books that have deliberately not been written by writers who decide to refuse to write. It’s a heavily-impacted mixture of commentary on real and imagined works from all over the world which raises a question I guess a lot of writers spend a lot of their time trying to avoid: why write? Although, as I’m only 40 pages in, maybe I’m wrong...

Anyway, quite early on in “Bartleby & Co” an imaginary work by Georges Perec is referred to. It’s called “A Portrait of the Author Seen as a Piece of Furniture, Always” and is described as “sarcastic”. This actually stopped me. “What has he got against, Perec?” I wondered. Because despite my own ingrained sarcasm, I couldn’t think of a less sarcastic writer than Georges Perec and couldn’t help seeing it as some kind of jibe at his expense.

Why should this be? I think reminsicences of Perec tends a little towards the hagiographical, or perhaps just my reading of them does. There’s also those wide-eyed photos, which encourage the viewer to see him as a spritely naif. But I also think there is a generosity to his writing which you don’t associate with the terminally sarcastic (guilty, m’lud).

Luckily, I then remembered Perec’s “mission statement” or justification of his writing and looked it up: “I think my ambition as a writer would be to run through the whole gamut of literature of my age without ever feeling I was going back on myself or treading ground I had trod before, and to write every kind of thing that it is possible for a man to write nowadays: big books and small ones, novels and poems, plays, libretti, crime fiction, adventure stories, science fiction, serials and children’s books…” (from David Bellos, “Georges Perec: A Life In Words”)

Not only is this, I think, a magnificent aim for a writer, but it fully justifies the existence of a sarcastic Perec work in Vila-Matas’ photo-negative of Borges’ Library of Babel… In fact, in such a library, there would have to be a sarcastic Perec. But then, the statement also shows Perec as the author of his own Library of Babel, “writing every kind of thing that it is possible… to write”.

Unfortunately, I can’t decide what I think any of this might mean or come up with a neat conclusion. So, rather appropriately as it happens, I’m just going to stop.


Nice micro-review of "Clear Water" in The Independent this morning (Scroll down a bit. A bit more. Squint. There it is). Potted version: "Buy the satire get the soul for free".

May 08, 2007

More on Bolaño...

You can read the Roberto Bolaño story, "Dance Card" here. It's taken from New Direction's "Last Evenings on Earth" collection and, while I'm not sure it's a perfect introduction, it'll give you a taste if you haven't come across him before. What it definitely does do is combine a very controlled, dry, almost academic voice (which presumably shows an influence from Borges) with a slowly building sense of loss - where it's everything that isn't said which makes it so moving. It's a beautiful piece of writing, I think, though better presented on the page than on the PEN website!

May 04, 2007

Keret & Stick

Thinking about mini-fictions yesterday brought Etgar Keret to mind, who, I think, is one of the best short short story writers around. I could try to tell you the little I know about him, but instead I googled and found a whole bunch of his work online. I suggest you start with the funny/bleak "Phenomenal Hard-Ons", though the site it's on may not be work-safe. Keret isn't a full time purveyor of filth, however, and if you go to his own site you'll find links to other stories.

May 03, 2007

A Very Short Story

Last year I was asked to submit a story for a flash (as I understand it "very short") fiction compendium but the editor didn't like the result. I happened to look at it today when I was failing to do any proper work and I found I was quite fond of it. It's kind of compacted dystopian sci-fi and I think the collision of form and content works pretty well. Anyway, here it is:

Once Upon One

I should have seen it coming. Eventually we were bound to reach a point where everything was disposable. Not just plates, cups, knives, forks, spoons, postpartum pants, nappies, 3D glasses, toilet seat covers, but cashmere-look sweaters, Rolexes, luxury jeeps, microwave ovens, footballs, wigs, books, wedding rings, houses, handcuffs, even cities.

Imagine that if you can, having excavated this message from fossilised landfill in some different, better future. Every object single-use, uni-purposed, the shortness of its existence determined by function. No repetitions, daily life nothing but novelty and constant endings. How long until our lives, objectively already brief enough, became governed identically?

Little time left for detail or, indeed, anything else, brevity being, necessarily, imperative. Only useless information – pointless last testament – bottle-buried, then my own truncated conclusion.

April 20, 2007

March 30, 2007

Attack of the Giant 50s Thatcher Babe

I'm posting this up again cos it fell off the front page and it's just so.. bright and, er... colourful. I don't think my reputation at Faber has ever recovered from insisting that the pin-up's hair had to be more Thatcherite... but it was for thematic reasons! Not because... oh God, no. How could they think that..???

In other news, happened across a quite amazing archive of poets reading their poetry at Pennsounds - the University of Pennsylvania's online resource for, uh, poets reading their poetry. Obviously something of a US bias but if you're interested in hearing Mayakovsky, Apollinaire, WC Williams, Robert Creeley, Tom Raworth etc etc, you 're in luck. Oh, it also contains a quite hysterically awful version of Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience". Sung. By Allen Ginsberg. Lovely man, I'm sure, but could he hold a tune..?

March 21, 2007

Cold Lampin'

Not really got owt to say for myself so here is a picture of my stylish light source in the glamorous writing bunker I call Sick Building Syndrome. Stuck on the wall behind is the gigantic chart on which I scrawled ideas etc for my re-writes on my (old) new book. And now that's done and delivered I've taken the paper down. I miss it. It made it look like I was working...

March 19, 2007

Chris Ware Is In The Building

Chris Ware's new book, "Building Stories," has been being serialised in the IoS for a few months now but, for some odd reason, I keep forgetting to read it. But it turns out you can find the whole thing so far online here. There's something rather beautiful about looking at all the pages laid out as thumbnails and seeing how he changes the colour scheme and the way the boxes fit together month to month. Being as it's Chris Ware it looks amazing and centres on loneliness and a mountain of small sorrows. Going back to an earlier post, surely influenced by Monsieur Georges..?

Foot Notes

Michael Foot was on t'radio this morning, reminding me of what a wonderful individual he is (though I was a little stunned by how much faith he seems to place in Goldon Brown). Ah, the glorious days of the early eighties when Thatch whipped Labour's arse, but at least we knew we were right (definitively and absolutely)... Anyway, Today are streaming the full interview online, but unfortunately you have to find it on the site as they don't seem to believe in offering direct links. Fools.

March 15, 2007

Their Office, no.3

"I used to be like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' but now I'm like, 'Yeah.'" Pause."'You did fight in a war. For freedom... and rights... and all that kinda stuff.'"

March 14, 2007

Darkness Returns

I've abandoned my ill-advised flirtation with a red, gold and green website at least until Jah contacts me personally. The moral of this story is - customisation is for buffoons.

Brightness Falls

As you can see, I've fallen foul of the urge to "customise" my blog, with the result that it looks fucking horrible. Whoops.

Andrew Holmes has started the Secret Santa mixtape exchange festivities again. The first couple of reviews suggest an authorial bloodsport. It's not pretty. Neither my review or the review of my cd has yet been posted. Gulp.

March 13, 2007

March 04, 2007

Perec Anniversary

It was only by chance that I discovered that yesterday (Saturday March 3rd) was the 25th anniversary of the death of Georges Perec (Wednesday 7th is the 71st anniversary of his birth). I've rootled around a little on the internet but there seems to be nothing in the way of new tributes to the man and his remarkable work, even in French. I would have thought that this sad jubilee was worth marking in some way, so here are my thoughts, for what they're worth.

Georges Perec is, for me, one of the most important authors I've read. I can think of few other writers who combined formal innovation with emotional clout so effortlessly, so that nothing in his work ever seemed gratuitous or there for show. Or who were so self-effacing and generous to their readers, so that, despite an underlying note of sadness, you can take his books almost as you want.

But more personally than this, Perec occupies a crucial place for me as he rescued me as a wannabe-writer from a trap of my own making. In my time as a student I became increasingly obsessed by the strand of modernism that seemed to find its final expression in the late work of Samuel Beckett, the slow boiling down of language that led to "Worstward Ho," "All Strange Away" and, in particular, "Ill Seen Ill Said." I wanted to write but couldn't see where the room was left for me and, in particular, my desperate story-telling urges, which seemed a little vulgar when set against, "White walls. High time. White as new. No wind. Not a breath."

A friend of mine showed me "Life: A User's Manual" just after I left college and suddenly I could sense something like a way forward - a way to fold endless stories and tales in on themselves without sacrificing any of the rigour or, indeed, the emotional weight of those austere short novels I had been so affected by. It's probably the only book I've consistently re-read over the following seventeen years and each time I return to it I find new ways to view it, different aspects of its construction becoming clear, even the compulsive imagining of seventies furnishings becoming increasingly poignant as they (and I) age. As a writer I've failed again and again to come anywhere near the formal beauty of any of Perec's hugely broad body of work, the quality of its writing and, perhaps most damningly, the generosity of its vision. He remains a (profoundly humbling) inspiration.

March 02, 2007

Fresan on Bolano

Those clever bastards at The Believer only give you the start of the articles online and then get you to buy the magazine. And I thought they were meant to be charitable or sutt'n? Anyway, there's the beginning of an essay by Rodrigo Fresan on Roberto Bolano up there at the moment and the opening is so good that I guess I'll have no choice but to purchase. I was lucky enough to meet Rodrigo Fresan after his excellent Kensington Gardens was published in English a year or two ago and he spent a considerable part of the evening extolling the virtues of Bolano, which was how I first came across his writing. You have no choice but to believe, I'm afraid...

What The Girl In The Headscarf Said Into Her Phone Whilst Riding The 69 Bus

You’re fuckin disgustin you are -
'Couldn’t handle 16 inches'.
Fuck off -
'What would ya do for twenty pound'!
She paused for laughter, then

February 28, 2007

Their Office no.1

"So if I call you when I get to Liverpool Street can you go and get some cat litter?"

These are the first civil words I've heard from the office next door all day. There's a couple in there who I presume are married as well as running a small business together. I know when both of them are in their office because they argue, loudly and incessantly, with liberal use of the word "fuck" until he gets up and leaves again. It's distracting but also quite funny. Rather than wasting the best of their gems, I'm beginning an occasional series of them here.

Company Loyalist

Have been on a bit of a Faber binge recently.

First of all I read David Peace's "Damned Utd," which tells the story of Brian Clough's 43 (44?) days in charge of Leeds United in 1974 ('73? As you can tell, the details have really stuck). Although, to be fair, it tells the internal story, as events take place very much from Ol' Big 'Ead's point of view. The results are absolutely inspired. It's a massive achievement that, stylistically, it's very much a David Peace book (Lots of. Very. Short. Sentences. And italics) but that you also feel the Spirit of Clough (and often the Spirits of Clough) leaking off the page. From now on the name "Don Revie" will send a cold shiver through me.

Anyway, it's been featured everywhere, so I'm not telling you anything you don't know, nor in a way that will enlighten you. I leant it to my sister, who I was visiting at the time and will report back her opinions as someone with no love of football when and if I receive them. In return, she leant me "Snow" by Orhan Pamuk, which is another book which everyone else in the world has probably already read. It was beautiful and moving as well as intricate and clever and deserves much better than to be treated as some sort of marker in a perceived battle between East and West.

Incidentally, these were both authors I'd tried before and not got on with ("GB84" and "My Name Is Red," respectively) so perhaps I'm improving as a human being. Or a reader, anyway.

February 22, 2007

Evil Genius...

Bit of an advert this one, but what can you do when you have a (kind of) commercial interest in a man as worthy of the world's attention as Infinite Livez? Go and get your free download now and revel in the sheer heroism of the man behind a nearly-pop tune titled "Unbiased Reductionism In 21st Century Music Practices"...

January 24, 2007

Hardy Country (and shit puns...)

Wasn't familiar with her work before, but saw one of Anne Hardy's pictures in the paper the other week and was completely sucked in by it. She builds rooms in her studio and then 'decorates' or fills them with junk and discarded equipment before photgraphing them and then dismantling them. The results are quite beautiful and evocative and spooky. Have a look here...

January 23, 2007

Books What I Read

I've been somewhat pathetic at updating over the last few months and I still can't think of anything interesting to write now (except for the attempts of a load of pirates to buy Sealand, which I've now spunked away in a parenthesis). So, instead here's a fascinating list of some of the books I've been reading in that time. It's neither complete nor accurate as it was put together only by what I could find lying next to my bed. Maybe I'll add commentary on them later...

H.G.Wells - Tono-Bungay
Joseph Conrad - The Secret Agent
Daniil Kharms -Incidences
Quincy Troupe - Miles and Me
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Crime And Punishment
Jose Saramago - Blindness
Emmanuel Carrere - I Am Alive And You Are Dead
Steve Erickson - Days Between Stations
Harold Pinter - Plays: Vol 2
Harold Pinter - Collected Screenplays 2

It's pleasing in that it makes me sound much more intellectual than I actually am.

I've now embarked upon the Pynchon Challenge which means no new lists any time soon... I'll have to think of another way of appearing to be interesting...