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.