Palimpsest, for all Vidal's narcissism, was an achievement in autobiography, a genre generally to be avoided. For a man I'm inclined to think of as ex...morePalimpsest, for all Vidal's narcissism, was an achievement in autobiography, a genre generally to be avoided. For a man I'm inclined to think of as exceptionally cold it was lyrical and warm, surprisingly frank on the heart, and well structured. He didn't feel compelled to tell us all - self aware enough to edit even life for the good bits.
But this. If you rate Vidal, best not read it.
The voice is still there, the wonderfully shaded irony, his acidic cutting through spin in commentary on events. But it's mostly the final telegrams of an old man missing his dead partner and lamenting the death and decline of his America, his friends, his glittering life. Even the chapter length tells of his waning powers - a page or two at most, before he must rest.
The queerest thing of all was the three or so chapters where he rated academic and biographical writings on his own life and significance. One chapter is a complete quote from the book of an academic - like he was reading you his book review over the breakfast table.
Or perhaps he was worried that his words, his important words, were impermanent after all. Not etched on tablets for eternal reference. I'll be reading his collected essays for the rest of my life, as he himself never put down his Montaigne.
I am hoping for some unreleased essays and his correspondence to be published. But this second autograph of his life made me feel like I was feeding on carrion. (less)
A thoroughly enjoyable faggot of thoughts and musings from Robb, some falling more towards the journalism end of interview and observation (more decla...moreA thoroughly enjoyable faggot of thoughts and musings from Robb, some falling more towards the journalism end of interview and observation (more declamatory and crisp in tone) and others dreamier, or happy to gorge on the author’s particular obsessions. The range of its concerns follows the author’s commissions and experience – the cultural cringe an irrelevancy. Robb writes about what he likes.
I loved his visit to the “lost” Caravaggios exhibited together in Naples for the first time – his breathless excitement at seeing properly rare pictures that obsessed him and his tumbling out what he could puzzle from them, slotting their hints into the large body of his insights on that artist – gleaned with such intensity that he alarmed the guards and was escorted away. Also his dissection of the crossed swords of academe in relation to scholarship on Caravaggio, starring Roberto Longhi.
Robb is not afraid to show us himself craven in a horrible apartment in the Cross, pissing off Gore Vidal, exploring queerness without the slightest hesitation of opinion, or his bare, breeze-on-flesh pleasure of a lotus-eating retreat in Brazil.
I never quite escaped my consciousness of Robb controlling his presentation of self – he is always clever, always, always, grasping what is going on – that sureness of his opinion at times was too impervious. Occasionally I wanted that large, brainy head of his not to be glinting across the table from me at the dinner party. He might get up from the table and let his words alone give me a rest.
The only time I felt the urgency of his need to master understanding it all waver was in his interview with Marcia Langton, whom Robb has known for a long time and with whom he shares a powerful frisson. You sense his awe of her and the wound of her chastisement of him when she rips him a new arsehole in public, while out for dinner.
I do know one of his interview subjects (or I did, fifteen years ago – the piece is fairly old too) and I can’t say I think it very characteristic of her. But it doesn’t make me like this book less. And like all essayists, it’s a pleasure to dip into and read over time.
By now you know this is Sacher-Masoch with the brains sucked out so I won't rant about it being bad.
I would like to note the achievement of a 500+ pa...moreBy now you know this is Sacher-Masoch with the brains sucked out so I won't rant about it being bad.
I would like to note the achievement of a 500+ page moist towelette without a single interesting tableau, conversation or indeed, moment of genuine leg-crossing pleasure.
Come on, that's something.
Obvious hackles raised by the scenario, I was truly BAFFLED by the author's choice to make her plucky heroine with the great smile and no need EVER to trim her bikini line despite regular maintenance of other gross, like, hair, to make her a complete sexual zero.
That's right folks, this all-american perfectly normal intelligent College grad who is "totes hot" is a tabula rasa simply waiting for the sting of Grey's hand.
She's not just a virgin but she doesn't, hasn't ever, touched herself. Rightio, then. Bring on the mental labioplasty, excising sensuality and "strumming the banjo" as a shearer once endearingly described it to me.
The sex is vanilla and as Andrew O'Hagan points out, very hygenic. (Listen to his podcast, it's uproarious). There was an odd moment when Christian removes her tampon but I think this was supposed to be showing his softer kitten-and-child-loving sensitive side.
I couldn't help but conclude the book was an unintended riff on American Psycho. Christian Grey and Patrick Bateman should swap business cards. (less)
I was willing this book to be good. No commentary I've ever read on Hunter has EVER been good.
It is not wonderful. Ersatz Gonzo stylings from the illu...moreI was willing this book to be good. No commentary I've ever read on Hunter has EVER been good.
It is not wonderful. Ersatz Gonzo stylings from the illustrator who admits that Hunter HATED when he tried to write anything on the pictures so essential to his own success. There was much territorial pissing.
Of course, HST is a complete MONSTER. He maces Steadman in the face at their first meeting. I have to say I believe Ralph totally on that one. The wound of his eventual inevitable rejection by Hunter clearly still suppurates. Particularly when Steadman keeps picking at it...
Impressions of Steadman himself at present are not stellar. Raving, paranoiac Welshman prone to fits of sabotage and assassination by ink.
Best chapter so far has been on the HST piece that never saw the light of day - what they got up to in Kinshasa covering the Rumble in the Jungle.
In the end, Hunter comes off as the freak you'd expect (I'm wondering if I should go back to read what I once so admired, or if it might freeze the blood like recent re-watchings of Withnail and I) but Ralph even more so. Resentment, pettiness, open jealousy, bottled anger until explosion...all told in a thick argot of bluffness that makes the dialogue from McGoohan's The Prisoner seem positively straight forward.
There isn't much insight here. Only a short reference to the suicide, in Aspen, while Ralph was visiting. He seems bewildered by his friend, and blindsided. (less)
This novel was a breakfast grapefruit - sour, refreshing, occasionally squirting me the eye with acid. All good things, like that underrated start to...moreThis novel was a breakfast grapefruit - sour, refreshing, occasionally squirting me the eye with acid. All good things, like that underrated start to the culinary day.
I should first disclose that I am writing this review codeined to the eyeballs and on deadline for something else. It gives it a frantic and digressive edge.
After reading so much fictive bilgewater, ersatz Balzac so removed from the original style of heaving bosoms and toothsome dramatics, as to have entirely forgotten its progenitor...books that were foggy, like a remnant word maimed and altered in meaning until it grates to even hear it (discreet/discrete is my current bugbear) this read GREAT.
David Shield’s Reality Hunger is a good reference point here - I refer you to Buck’s excellent review and attendant discussion thread.
Boucher has written a novel that complements all Shield’s bravura epigrams on the dead dead dead state of traditional storytelling, on the actual form of the novel, and pleaded for alternatives. THIS BOOK IS A REPLACEMENT. An improvement. Zesty.
So, how to describe it without releasing small rodents that knaw at your brain with academic snoozery and make you run screaming, oh book-lover that likes things to, you know, mean something? Something definable. As opposed to applying all those prisms of theory which shatter meaning into a thousand bad copies of the cover of Dark Side of the Moon? Ah. More difficult.
The unnamed narrator has sold everything. His name, his possessions, his stories, hocked the lot. To buy time-as-money, the currency of Boucher’s alternative version of Western Massachusetts. He needs the money because of health-care issues (Oh, the terror of being sick in the US. For smug bastards with national healthcare like me it’s like contemplating the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg. You know you will never come out. At least, not as you.)
He has sold it because he has a sick child. His child is a 1971 Volkswagen who runs on stories and requires careful maintenance of his sufferoil, his memorycoil, his unique engineheart. Got that?
You can make a stone-cold analysis of what Boucher is doing here - the alternating chapters of cutesy-hippie lingo in the second person, a faked manual explaining the tao of his strange car (as a former Peugeot owner I know how French things can get). Then a first person patchwork memoir of the narrator, a hack storyteller and misanthrope to whom success is a foreign country. Possessor of a black-belt in self-sabotage, inventor of ghosted persons and mis-remembered histories. His former girlfriends are trapped inside formalist conceits.
It’s a novel of augmentation; of accumulated, startling detail.
Does it sound annoying? A little, but less than you’d think. The dialogue is cracking, and Boucher controls perfectly the balance between the recognisable whims and failings of his protagonist and the otherness of his version of Western Massachusetts, where sentient objects abound, police are CityDogs, and trees regularly are involved in homicides, attacking people’s to eat their hearts.
Themes? The act of writing, more specifically the life of a freelance writer, of writing for money, on spec. Heartlessly. Also, parenthood. Death. Dickheads who won’t grow up, who construct elaborate fantasies to avoid responsibilities of any kind.
I had enormous admiration for the control of this book and the complete and unerring conviction of its vision. It’s the new new fiction, all right. It was also piss funny.
And yet I have a niggling suspicion. Like a few of those writers under-40 sainted by The New Yorker last year (Karen Russell I’m looking at you) I worry that along with fixies, Pancho facial hair and the bad-craft mania gripping women who should know better, the sentimental sweetness, Gen-X nostalgia, is going to date pretty quick.
The thing about grapefruit at breakfast is it needs brown sugar. Boucher has used a little much. At times the tweeness made my fillings hurt. I know why he did it - there’s some heavy stuff going down in Western Massachusetts, but it seemed a little spooked. Like he pulled back from how dark it should have been.
I love post-modernism. I know, kick me. So unfashionable. It seems clear to me that what Boucher and his kind are doing is essentially post-modernism á la Portlandia. It’s good. It’s whipcrack clever. It’s just not as new as it seems on first read.
There's the phssst of VW releasing the harried domestic texture of life. And then, the breathtaking interpolations of all her eye, her ear, her seeing...moreThere's the phssst of VW releasing the harried domestic texture of life. And then, the breathtaking interpolations of all her eye, her ear, her seeing into things into the dull day. It gives me a shiver. It makes me ache for talent.
Heaps of great anecdotes in this memoir, particularly loved the Gudinski ones. There's a major shift in tone in the book about half way through that I...moreHeaps of great anecdotes in this memoir, particularly loved the Gudinski ones. There's a major shift in tone in the book about half way through that I went with; Stephen seems more fractured, angry & mad. Sloppy emotions & rage, a hair shirt regarding self sabotage too. not a standard memoir by any means, a mumbled self-deprecating ride.
Oh yes, extra points for its chapter long rant on how shit Nick Cave is. He rips him a new arsehole, at the same time cringing at his own craven jealousy. Wonderful.(less)
So Wayne Macauley, a satirist worth his salt, has been round for a while. Good ole’ Black Pepper Press took a punt on his skewered cheese-dreams of Au...moreSo Wayne Macauley, a satirist worth his salt, has been round for a while. Good ole’ Black Pepper Press took a punt on his skewered cheese-dreams of Australian aspiration. Not just suburban oiks, the obvious target, but those artistes applying for the wafer-thin dinner mints of grant funding and greater glory. Check out his early books.
But not before you read this one. My, this is a good book. If Jude the Obscure was obsessed by making it to Masterchef instead of Christminister you might get an inkling of the flavor.
Zach the delinquent trained on a TV-chef’s farm with a group of other fuck-ups takes like a zealot to the filet-knife, the butchering, the prep. But like Jude he understands nothing; his vision of where he will go is so myopic, so focussed, he misses the perilousness of his day-to-day life. He is used. He is in the hands of others.
He’s also entirely, suffocatingly creepy. Macauley gives us just enough of Zach in reflective mode to grasp that he feels very little. Shame is his engine. He freaks people out with this.
My only quibble with the book was the deliberate lack of punctuation. It felt like an ruse to elict better concentration from the reader. I read closely, but punctuation helps to slow me down, find repose. It seemed unnecessary.
Things do not end well. But the larger picture is as frightening as the denouement. In the world of food - working class butchers, obsequious deli owners, farmers, even celebrity chefs - things are broken. The dream of money and fame, the aspirational velocity that Australians have been repeatedly told is what we all should have - it’s in tatters.
And therein lies the true wonder of this novel. The dread. The dystopia. The Global Financial Crisis hangs over it as palpably as the fear of nuclear Armageddon hung over Gen X dinosaurs like myself in the early eighties. Remember, Ronald Reagan was going to start bombing in five minutes.
All that Masterchef glitz turns out to be bread and circuses. And I’m talking supermarket sawdust snags and fairy loaf. (less)
While this book is competently written, insightful, if at times drawing a long bow about Sunday Reed's motivations, all I can say is enough already. M...moreWhile this book is competently written, insightful, if at times drawing a long bow about Sunday Reed's motivations, all I can say is enough already. Ms Burke has truly mined the Heide gold as much as is humanly possible.
This book cured me permanently of wanting to know anything about the Reeds ever again. They were controlling beyond measure, admitting no artistic merit but their own imprimatur. I've had a gutful of Sunday.
Most food writing is shit. It wallows in superlatives as brazenly as real estate hustings. But really good writing about food makes the heart soar.
Thi...moreMost food writing is shit. It wallows in superlatives as brazenly as real estate hustings. But really good writing about food makes the heart soar.
This is in the second category. Partially because Buford is so craven, so desperate to GET what it is like being young, dumb and full of come in a kitchen more stuffed with wise-asses and borderline personality disorders than the average martini olive.
Lots of guys take up lycra and the bike for their mid-life thingo. Or get expensive mistresses. Or foreign cars (the same thing, really). Buford rather sadly wants to cut it on the line in a four star restaurant. He is known as “kitchen bitch”.
Happily for the reader, as a long-time food obsessed New Yorker staff writer with serious “chops” (sorry) in the descriptive department, it’s a pretty great ride for the reader.
Things I learnt from Bill Buford: 1.Mario Batali is deeply unlikeable. 2.Kitchens are the most unreconstructed misogynist bastions imaginable. Still. 3.Italians love a gesture. The thing that makes it ineffably charming, which gives it gravitas, is that they LIVE by such gestures. Even if it makes their lives in some ways suck.
I was tempted to deduct points from Buford’s giant schwing (sentimental and gee whiz all at the same time which is some feat for an erection) for artisanal production. YES, food made by hand is better. YES, frankenstein food production is a truly terrible side-effect of globalisation. But I’ve heard it a lot. And it doesn’t explain how in reality non-yuppies in urban settings can readily afford organic/local meats and produce. Other than to grown it, which is a HUGE leap for many folks. People don’t want to eat shit, but gee, nutrition is pretty good nowadays. Have you SEEN the SIZE of the feet on sixteen-year-old girls?
I didn’t deduct the points because this book isn’t so new, and perhaps the Michael Pollan-esque message was a bit fresher then.
Buford scores because he makes it fun instead of holier-than-thou. You won’t forget the Tuscan butchers he trains with in a hurry, either.(less)
Just a gorgeous object and worth having for the reproduction of the wallpapers. I'll never be able to afford to hang any.
Firstly, I can't...moreJust a gorgeous object and worth having for the reproduction of the wallpapers. I'll never be able to afford to hang any.
Firstly, I can't believe it took so long for someone to kill Florence. She was just insufferable.
Secondly, for a book on an inventive and accomplished liar, who had toured China and the sub-continent in the dirty dying days of Colonial knees-up, who then popped up in London as a faux-Parisian couturier to the bobos on the up-and-up and finally returning to have an incredible career in swinging seventies Sydney...possibly then murdered by a famous serial killer...
Why was the text so boring?
It needed far more quotation from Ms Broadhurst's personal correspondence and far less psychodramatic bushwah from the author. But this is my beef with biography in general.
I'd like to sit next to Lindqvist at a party but this was nasty, limited stuff. Nasty in a venal way, not in a covetable way. Apparently he often lose...moreI'd like to sit next to Lindqvist at a party but this was nasty, limited stuff. Nasty in a venal way, not in a covetable way. Apparently he often loses interest in finishing his books properly and this one had a denouement that was totally colour by numbers. Oddly, it also had a massively overwritten first hundred pages, making its intensity lopsided and the characterisation peculiarly uneven.