This book should be available in an edition for Christians. It would then be called WTF,God?! (yeah, rather disrespectful I agree). But all you do isThis book should be available in an edition for Christians. It would then be called WTF,God?! (yeah, rather disrespectful I agree). But all you do is replace the word Evolution with the word God.
So, this book would be full of funny stuff like
These are supposed to be dolphins? God, have you ever actually seen a dolphin?
Look, God, everyone has trouble staying motivated sometimes. Take a walk or have a snack when that happens…Don’t force yourself to make turtles when your heart obviously isn’t in it.
God had not had enough coffee when He made the Surinam horned frog.
Why so gloomy, babirusa? Is it because God gave you some weird extra tusks that are ugly, useless, too brittle to fight with, and may eventually grow so long that they curve around and fatally puncture your skull? Could that be it?
Because the anti-evolutionists believe that every species was created by God individually, and did not evolve from any other species. You know, Genesis and all that :
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
The implications of this have been rarely teased out. The Bible literalists like to say that God created the
But they shuffle their feet and look down at their hands when you mention the tapeworm. But it goes further. God also created the rats which spread the bubonic plague and killed around 45% of the population of Europe in the years 1346–53. But also He spent some time creating Xenopsylla cheopis - the flea which infected the rats. And before all that, He also mulled things over and created the Yersinia pestis bacterium which is the actual disease itself. I mean, without Yersinia pestis the fleas were just hitch-hikers and the rats were just stowaways.
And He created all the other diseases too, which I shan’t list – I’m sure you have your favourites. River blindness, syphilis, malaria, whatever.
So this thing cuts both ways. Yeah, evolution does look pretty silly when you think about that saiga antelope
or the star nosed mole
– but if this indicates that Darwin was barking up the wrong sea cucumber and Genesis is right after all, then I do find it kind of worrying that we’re all in the hands of Someone who thought the Goliath spider was a good idea
I was going to say that this is the book which contains the most mentions of YURTS ever, but of course there’s always
I’m sure that one clocks up an evI was going to say that this is the book which contains the most mentions of YURTS ever, but of course there’s always
I’m sure that one clocks up an even more impressive reading on the yurtometer. BUT THIS BOOK IS SECOND! It was one of those things like when you notice someone has a funny way of blinking or compulsively pulls at their left earlobe. Every two seconds…YURT! We built a YURT. Then we built another YURT. I intended to spend the winter in my YURT. I became concerned about the sogginess of my YURT. Your YURT looks so beautiful in the Scottish gloaming.
THE SONG OF DYLAN EVANS
I was never meant To live in a tent I do not care a damn About your grotty wigwam The idea of a teepee Makes me kind of weepy So pardon me for being curt I intend to live in a Mongolian YURT!
So… Dylan Evans was an academic robotics researcher who decided that he wanted to conduct a real life experiment to see what would happen after civilisation collapsed, no electricity, no manufactured objects, living off the land, old stone age, cool. Like Walking Dead without zombies.
This was just the usual white male middle-class delusional fantasy which has spawned a million science fiction novels. Its half-heartedness and ambivalence mirrored that of its creator and the mild grimness of its grungy no-toilet-paper leaking-yurt daily-vegetable grind send Dylan into a mental tailspin which ended with a few weeks in a psychiatric institution, bemoaning the wreckage of his life.
I didn’t really have to sell my house to fund the experiment. I could have rented it out and moved back in after… with less money to blow on ill thought-out acquisitions that quickly fell into disuse I could probably have done the experiment for a fraction of what I eventually spent. Nor did I have to give up my job….
The concept was to inhabit a couple of acres of the Scottish highlands (one of the wettest parts of the globe) for 18 months only and advertise for temporary residents to come and participate.
He started off in a bipolar high:
More yurts would eventually spring up, and woodpiles, and rows of vegetables… our bodies would grow strong from the physical labour and our minds refreshed by the natural surroundings, far away from the cities we’d left behind.
Yes, more yurts! Yurts stretching all the way to the horizon!
Dylan seems not to have factored into his idyllic bliss-out the stress of vegetables. Anyway, a couple of gnarled ur-hippies join him in his yurtopia. One calls himself (no really!) Adam. One day he sits down with Adam
to figure out some basic rules for Utopia. But all I succeeded in doing was to open a can of worms.
One rule was about what to do about outside purchases.
We can’t just buy a crate of wine every week and tell ourselves that we keep finding well-stocked cellars in the abandoned farmhouses nearby.
This is of course the Walking Dead method of staying stylish – have you ever noticed their clothes? It’s like Rick and Daryl keep stumbling across Alexander McQueen and Paul Smith branches in the abandoned malls of rural Georgia.
OFF THE PIG
Now here’s a sentence you could have predicted:
It felt strange to be eating the animal we had cared for those past few months, and fed that very morning, but it was delicious, and the crackling melted in my mouth.
GOOD GOD, MAN, LOOK AT YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR!
In fact Dylan was a morass of psychological conflict from the get-go – some time after the beginning of the experiment he got his girlfriend to live in a nearby house so he could live both kinds of life at the same time – hot shower on Tuesdays and Sundays, cold yurts the rest of the time. At least, until they broke up. Dylan doesn’t say exactly what precipitated this, but it may have been something to do with his obsession with yurt-know-whats.
THE WORLD SHOWED NO SIGN OF ENDING THAT YEAR
Even though the year this all happened in was the year of the Great Capitalist Shitstorm (2007) Dylan gradually lost faith in the end of the world as we know it. He became able to see it for what it was:
Now, almost a year into the experiment, every trip to the supermarket felt like a betrayal. How valuable a simulation of life after the collapse of civilisation could it be, if we were still popping down to Tesco every week? … The whole experiment began to seem like a sham, an extended camping trip, a bunch of soft-skinned Westerners kidding themselves that they were hardy backwoodsmen
Oddly enough, as Dylan loses faith, his fellow utopians get more committed to the project. Beginning with three people, after a year there were usually between eight and twelve people working away at the vegetable gardens. The horror of Dylan’s self imposed situation became ever more palpable – what was he going to do after the 18 months? Now he has no job, no house, no girlfriend, no prospects. He's spent ALL his money from the house on funding this ridiculous excursion. He gets suicidal and checks himself in to the mental hospital.
RECOVERING FROM UTOPIA
He got better, slowly. More optimistic thoughts arose in his mind :
Given that everything will come to an end eventually, does it really matter if humanity lasts another million years rather than just another thousand? Since civilization is bound to collapse sooner or later, does it matter when?
Hmm, you don’t think that sounds like a man in recovery, gradually rebuilding his shattered life? Okay, try this :
Even if humans discover how to prolong their lives the universe will eventually unravel and freeze. And then there will be nothingness for ever and ever, and permanent darkness.
So, you know, cheer up! Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we go to Scotland and live in a yurt. ...more
I love books about a single movie – two recent corkers were Chain Saw Confidential and The Disaster Artist, both written by actors. But those short loI love books about a single movie – two recent corkers were Chain Saw Confidential and The Disaster Artist, both written by actors. But those short love-letter-to-my-favourite-film books are good too, like Withnail & I and Meet Me in St Louis in the BFI Film Classics series. In those kind of books you get to find out who was doing what with who to get the part (Lucille Bremer as Judy’s sister) and who nearly got the part (Shirley Temple for Dorothy in Wizard of Oz! Of course!) and all that. Hilarious.
So this book is by a guy who wrote one of my real favourite book-about-books, which is Out of Sheer Rage. That is a book about how Geoff didn’t write a book about DH Lawrence.
Geoff Dyer is all about the meta.
But he’s chatty with it. So here in this book Zona Geoff gets to write about his favourite movie. And I thought, in the words of Jeremy Clarkson, “what could possibly go wrong?”
This Dyer guy has got it made. He seems to have been given a contract by his publisher which says : just write about whatever stray idea and whimsical notion that pops into your head and we’ll slap it between two covers. Don’t think twice! So he writes about jazz, DH Lawrence, Venice, World War One, John Berger, Paris, and on and on.
You don’t have to like or know much about DH Lawrence to enjoy Out of Sheer Rage. You just have to be able to empathise with a guy endlessly putting off something which he himself volunteered to do and which has now become a crushing burden. We’ve all been there.
However, in Zona, we have a very detailed account of this movie called Stalker by Tarkovsky and really, you hafta have seen it, which so far, I haven’t. I thought I could wing it. But really, this movie sounds dull. Boring people doing boring things boringly.
You’re going to say – but that is a perfect description of all Eric Rohmer movies, of which I am a big fan. Well, boring is a personal thing. After all, some people think books are boring. Imagine that.
So I got to page 80 and set it down.
What I really want to do is watch Goto, Island of Love. That’s a 1969 movie by Walerian Borowczyk which I saw once in an art house years ago & always wanted to see again and looked for in vain until last week when I found it by accident in a discount shop called Fop – two disc edition, couldn’t believe it.
So here it sits but I’m nervous – it might turn out to be terrible. I thought it was great back then, but who knows. My former self did not have perfect taste. I even had a Moodyblues album once. Don’t tell anyone.
For 75 pages this was all clang clang clang goes the trolley ding ding ding goes the bell but then it turned a sharp corner and I think I done got thr For 75 pages this was all clang clang clang goes the trolley ding ding ding goes the bell but then it turned a sharp corner and I think I done got throwed off the bus. Ow! As it rattled off without me I was left to think carefully about what I’m doing when I read a novel (aside from avoiding the interminable election debates on tv, OMG another 3 weeks to go), and what I think a novel is doing or supposed to be doing. It’s good to be made to think about these things. But why did I get throwed off the bus?
This jampacked little book is all about the why of novels, and it's got some high standards to apply to both novels and readers, so you better shape up, you readers you. Hey - I do mean YOU. Yeah. That's right.
It’s like James Wood expects us to be listening to some random tune and be able to name the bass player and the producer’s previous hits and the singer’s favourite drugs and where it got to in the charts and its relation to the minor essays of Jean-Paul Sartre and Flaubert’s left earlobe.
James Wood is like the gold standard reader. When you read David Foster Wallace you notice that he notices everything, I mean everything, and notices everything about himself noticing things and so on, and so forth. James Wood does all that while he reads every single novel. Not one word passes casually beneath the Wood eyeballs. Every phrase will be cross-examined. Every paragraph will have bamboo shoved up its fingernails until it confesses where it stands in regard to Stendahl, Balzac and Dostoyevsky. And Flaubert.
Frankly, I was outclassed. I was more than a little crushed. I was talked down to. It had been made clear that I'd got on the wrong bus. Me! Moi! As the trolley lurched round another bend I was turning distinctly green. It was all going so well when JW was discussing the free indirect style of modern narration which enables an indeterminate locus of reality to emerge which is not the character speaking and not the author either but a fifth dimension equipoised between the two. All that was great.
But then he gets in to character, a brief history of consciousness and sympathy and complexity. Then the full florid obsessions emerged – no more 20th century, only French and Russians! Balzac! More Flaubert*! Pushkin! Stendahl! Diderot! Chekhov! Tolstoy! Yeah, that’s right, punk! All those guys you never read! You were going to get round to them but well I don’t know but you just never did! Well, I bet you’re regretting that now because you can’t talk about fiction without an intimate knowledge of alla those guys. Sorry. I bet you want to slink off back into the night now doncha. Go ahead, slink.
When the 20th century is reluctantly allowed into JW’s purview it’s Hardy (never read him), Buddenbrooks (never read it), Proust (same), Italo Svevo (huh?), Thomas Pynchon (no thanks) and Saul Bellow (oh, I read one by him – the wrong one).
It must be said out loud: James Wood is an old school patrician sneerer. Even though he’s earned the right to sneer a hundred times over, there’s still no need for it. Here’s where I gagged:
If prose is to be written as well as poetry novelists and readers must develop their own third ears. We have to read musically, testing the rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding whether a metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality. We must proceed on the assumption that almost all prose popularly acclaimed as beautiful (“she writes like an angel”) is nothing of the sort, that almost every novelist will at some point be baselessly acclaimed for writing “beautifully” as almost all flowers are at some point acclaimed for smelling nice.
Is this not a bit nauseating? Get off of your high horse, JW! Maybe there are 41 other human beings who read the right books with the perfect superconsciousness using their perfect brains bulging with culture in the way that JW advises, but the rest of us are real people who sometimes read in the bath with the radio on. Some of us have actually not read Flaubert’s Sentimental Education! Think of that! Some of us – you may have to lie down for this – have no intention of reading Flaubert’s Sentimental Education! We are the plebs your culture warned you about.
However, at the end of this book we get 20 pages about realism. Here James Wood defends the idea that the business of fiction is to get real life in some way onto the printed page. Suddenly James Wood is my new best friend! Yes! It’s about time someone stuck it to those old haddocks William Gass and Roland Barthes. I love this:
Realism, seem broadly as truthfulness to the way things are, cannot be mere verisimilitude, cannot be mere lifelikeness, or lifesameness, but what I call lifeness : life on the page, life brought to different life by the highest artistry. And it cannot be a genre; instead, it makes ther forms of fiction seem like genres. For realism of this kind is the origin. It teaches everyone else; it schools its truants.
So – what can I say – read the first 75 pages and the last 20, and don’t mess with Mr In-Between.
*We cannot write about rhythm and not refer to Flaubert, and so once again, as if unable to stop rereading the old letters of a former lover, I return to him. (Ugh) ...more
Meaning that the movie begins with the chronologically latest events of the story, then skips back to what happened just b THE STORY IS TOLD BACKWARDS
Meaning that the movie begins with the chronologically latest events of the story, then skips back to what happened just before that, then skips back again, and so on, back through the day. 13 sections.
This is not unique – there’s Philip Dick’s Counter-Clock World (1967), Pinter’s play Betrayal (1978), Martin Amis’ novel Time’s Arrow (1991), Julia Alvarez’s novel How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents (1991) and Alexander Masters’ Stuart: A Life Backwards (1995). This is a rape-revenge story, which because of the backwards chronology becomes a revenge-rape story. I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left refracted through French 21st century extreme cinema. It's the antidote to those meretricious movies. A different experience. I would argue : unmissable. But my tastes may not be yours.
FRENCH EXTREME CINEMA
Well, you can’t really deny it. Frontiers, Martyrs, Switchblade Romance, Baiser-Moi, Inside, Trouble Every Day, In my Skin, Calvaire. Some I like, some I hate. Irreversible is up there at the top, probably number 2 to Martyrs’ No 1. This stuff is soooooo violent. You never saw people suffer on screen till you see French extreme cinema.
BIZARRE CAMERAWORK INDUCING NAUSEA
Remember Leatherface at the end of Texas Chain Saw Massacre swinging his big ole chainsaw round and up and down? That’s how Gaspar Noe uses his camera for the first 20 minutes or so of this movie. So, that plus the violence plus the ugly painful soundtrack will be a bit too much for your mother-in-law, probably. This movie got plenty of walkouts.
AFTER THE HORROR, UNBEARABLE POIGNANCY
This is because we journey backwards through the day. We begin with the arrests, back to the revenge, back to the rape, back to the stupid argument in the bar which causes Monica Bellucci’s character to walk out alone and take some bad advice :
back to the intimate banter between the Monica, her boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend as they went out to the bar (“the only time she had an orgasm with me is when she fell out of bed and banged her head”), backwards before that to voluptuous scenes between Monica and boyfriend Vincent Cassel, a near perfect raunchy couple on a carefree morning. The movie therefore ends in perfect romantic-sexual harmony. Given what we have seen before, that is, know what is about to happen, the effect is devastating.
Amelie and Irreversible were released almost at the same time and of course the whimsical-cutesy fantasy Amelie became the world’s favourite French film up till then. It’s the total opposite of Irreversible. In Amelie romance thrives – a spooky, OCD version anyway – and Paris has never looked so lovely and manic dream pixie girls never so chic. Amelie clearly drives Tim Palmer quite insane and he takes the time to assemble some great anti-Amelie quotes :
Totally disconnected from all contemporary reality….cleansed of ethnic diversity and social problems with a broad CGI brush of smug totalising rightwing bluster… transposing euroDisney to Montmartre…. Opposed to everything Irreversible pursues
I can see all that, but, you know, Amelie and Irreversible are both great films. Suck it up Tim Palmer.
IT MUST BE AN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD
Film critics and professors seem to develop weird obsessive linguistic tics which they can’t help or just don’t notice. In Annette Kuhn’s terrible book on the brilliant Ratcatcher, she can’t write more than two paragraphs without talking about space or using the word spatial. Here, it’s diegetic. Honest, it comes up every fourth sentence, bong, like a clock striking every ten minutes. Diegetic this, diegetic that.
Something unknown to Tim Palmer : the power of the synonym.
After that, we have a horrendously overused phrase : the French film ecosystem. This comes up about a thousand times.
And of course, it just wouldn’t be a film book written by a professor without some of those brainbending inscrutabilities, such as :
One rallying group goal – onscreen, issuing from that screen to coalesce around the spectator – is to subsume any regulated dispensation of diegetic information to a lyrical, contingent disbursement of cinematic data.
As a film fan, I must say that doing a film course at a university sounds like PURE HELL.
Prof Palmer’s prose is unpleasant and sclerotic, true, but his monograph is stuffed full of interesting angles, and I actually do recommend it to any fan of this movie or French extreme cinema in general. ...more
Literary Characters React to Notes from the Underground
This Accounts for a Good Deal. It Explains Everything. In Life, you see, we can't all, anLiterary Characters React to Notes from the Underground
This Accounts for a Good Deal. It Explains Everything. In Life, you see, we can't all, and some of us don't. Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush. This book is telling everybody “We can look for the North Pole, or we can play 'Here we go gathering Nuts in May' with the end part of an ants' nest. It's all the same to me." Amusing in a quiet way, but not really helpful.
Help, help! A hexistentialist! A horrible hexistentialist! Hex, hex! A hexistible horribilist! Oh my… I know it’s only a story. But, it is hard to be brave when you are a very small animal entirely surrounded by despair.
Well, it’s about this guy and he lives under some floorboards somewhere in a hovel, and he’s full of rage and horror and bile, like. Talks about toothache a lot. When I was reading this book I was thinking, I know this guy. This guy is my cousin. He’s a right misery. He’d split your head open for a tuppeny bit.
You've got a fiend in me You've got a fiend in me You got troubles and I got 'em too There isn't anything I wouldn't do To make everything twice as bad for you 'Cause you've got a fiend in me
Ha ha. That’s a parody. Did you get that? Friend – fiend! See? Okay, don’t knock yourself out.
When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. Now when the first baby fell out of its pram and banged its little head on the hard hard floor, it howled for the first time, and its howl broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went crawling around, and that was the beginning of Dostoyevsky.
I propose to dispense with the a spoonful of sugar, Mr Under the Floorboards. So it’s two Xanax on retiring and two at noon. Is that understood? Upon my soul, no more of that please. We are not a codfish.
I got a steel-jacketed antidepressant right here, just say so it’s yours.
There’s like this creep who lives in the ground, I think like Lord of the Rings, what’s those things, bobbits? Anyway he hates everything and he doesn’t have the internet. At least the bobbits got to travel. Not this dude. I mean, this is like from history so you know, there is a severe lack of things like credit cards and betties to pay for with the credit cards. . Way back then people were barely alive. I can’t even believe there were any people back then. So he’s waaa waaa everything I think and everything I do is wrong but hey, I like having toothache. I know! He’s just totally clueless. Reading this really wigged me out. Okay, all right, reading Spark Notes on this wigged me out. I was Seriously? And this is good because?
It’s a right cushy number, being the Devil. He gets to tempt people into evil (“come on, you can say she looked 16 late THE DEVIL SENDS OUT SPAM EMAILS
It’s a right cushy number, being the Devil. He gets to tempt people into evil (“come on, you can say she looked 16 later”) and then he gets to punish them for it. He appears to reside in Hell but spend most of his time out of it, and when he’s there he seems to enjoy himself immensely.
Of course, the Devil is a metaphor. But for 99% of the human race, he was real. If you want stats, we have them.
As in other matters of religious faith, there appears to be a difference between the experience of the USA and other Western countries. An opinion survey in 2005 found that 60% of Americans believe in the evil one [compared with] 21% of the British population and 17% of the French
This is all a little strange – there was a war in Heaven, and the rebellious angels were overthrown, and cast out of heaven into the fiery pit. Lucifer, once the chief and brightest of angels, was the rebel leader. So he became His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Of course if you believe that God is omnipotent then a rebellion in heaven could not happen unless God wanted it to. Nothing at all happens unless God wants it to. But the Lucifer origin myth is from before that concept, from a cruder, ruder time when gods fought each other in the sky, like in those Marvel comics about Thor.
DEPARTMENT OF ONTOLOGICAL CONFUSION
The Devil is a thing of great pervasive power in Christianity all the way up to the 20th century, when he begins to fade away. This world is regarded as a battleground between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Again, this is medieval thinking which almost says that God does not have supreme power, that the struggle is a genuine one, that on any given day it looks like the Devil has won the battle. In evangelical Christianity the ongoing guerrilla war will flare up into a gigantic conflagration at the second coming of Christ, who will lead the faithful in the final battle against the Adversary. What a crude idea. Clearly if God is omnipotent none of that razzmatazz is required. God just blinks and that’s all she wrote. Actually, God does not even have to blink. Doesn’t even have to think about blink. That’s real omnipotence.
THE WORLD AS GIANT LAB EXPERIMENT
The only way to make sense of the Devil is to see him as – either literally or metaphorically – the laboratory equipment in God’s giant Earth experiment. We humans are the guinea pigs or mice. We get to run around in search of food (= salvation). God erects all kinds of tests and barriers and pitfalls in our way (the perpetual availability of attractive sin – this is what the Devil does) and watches to see which mice get to the food/salvation and which fall into the cooking pot. Some mice go to heaven, most mice go to hell.
The reason they call me an atheist is that I do not see the reason for this experiment. It seems cruel and arbitrary.
THE DEVIL IN POPULAR MUSIC
This is not in this rather dull book, I just thought I'd chuck it in for fun.
Peggy Lee told her lover : I say the devil is in you and to resist you I try But if you didn’t continue I would die; Big Joe Turner in Shake Rattle & Roll told his woman I believe in my soul you’re the devil in nylon hose (he also sang the devilish line : I’m a one eyed cat peeping in a seafood store , which neither Elvis nor Bill Haley decided to sing) ; The Beatles sang she’s got the Devil in her arse – no, I mean heart! Ha ha, sorry about that, what could have possessed me to write arse; Morrisey said that Satan rejected his soul; Charlie Daniels said the devil went down to Georgia for a fiddlin’ contest, of all things; Max Romeo bragged up hisself : Lucifer son of the morning, I'm gonna chase you out of earth! I'm gonna put on a iron shirt, and chase satan out of earth; Biffy Clyro , whoever he she or it is, said I talk to God as much as I talk to Satan 'Cause I want to hear both sides; On the Harry Smith anthology Bill Reed’s old wife got snatched up : Old Devil got to the gates of hell, said punch the fire up we'll scorch her well but it didn’t work out because the old wife was tougher than the devil was and she got sent back to Bill; Robert Johnson sang Me and the Devil Blues: Early this morning when you knocked upon my door And I said hello Satan I believe it's time to go; the B52s found him in their car: He's pointing his pitchfork at me. He's in the front seat of my car! He's taking over! Oo, he ripped my upholstery. He's at the wheel, HELP! The devil's in my car. Martha Reeves wondered about demonic possession: Whenever I`m with him something inside Starts to burning and I`m filled with desire Could it be a devil in me or is this the way love`s supposed to be? We know what you mean, Martha.
And whilst the Devil might have faded out of most of ordinary life, he’s alive and shakin’ in some communities. Every other heavy metal, gospel and religious country music song is about the devil.
And : when the Devil goes to the movies, he can’t be less than flattered by the attention : Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Max von Sydow, Viggo Mortensen, Jack Nicholson, Tom Waits and Gabriel Byrne have all been him. That’s not bad for a metaphor.
I got this from the notorious 1001 Books you Must Read or We Will Put Your Household Pets in a Food Blender We Are Serious. I know some people do notI got this from the notorious 1001 Books you Must Read or We Will Put Your Household Pets in a Food Blender We Are Serious. I know some people do not like that list much but this slender bitter novel from 1922 would have otherwise passed me by completely.
This novel is a ferocious yet so genteelly understated attack on that exalted Victorian female virtue of self-denial. The idea is that you live a life of private misery because you do nothing to make your parents or anyone else the least bit upset ever. Never assert, never disagree, don’t marry the person you love, nothing for you, everything for them. And you revel in this secret pathological abnegation with all the pervy thrill of a hairshirted medieval monk. The more unhappy you are because you’re not doing anything you want to do the happier you are because you know you’re such a good good good person. May Sinclair then gives this a magnificent further twist – and by these actions, or non-actions, you compound the unhappiness of the very people you think you’re making happy by your self-denial.
This was great. Bleak, bitter, short - what's not to like here? Read in a couple of hours, but will glow in my mind for years to come. ...more
This being Richard Price, whatever it says on the cover – we’ll get to that in a moment – I thought I’d better keep a note of the characters just to tThis being Richard Price, whatever it says on the cover – we’ll get to that in a moment – I thought I’d better keep a note of the characters just to try to get them straight in my mind, I knew there’d be a whole phalanx of them, detectives, perps, victims, family members, ex-family members, ex-detectives, witnesses, slingers, dog walkers, sex workers, hopheads – so here’s the list I made
Billy Graves Joon Emmett Butter Gene Feeley Alice Stupak Roger Mayo Rollie Towers Aka The Wheel Theodore Moretti Eddie Lopez Charlene Carter Horace Woody Carla Garrett Jeffrey Bannion Thomas Rivera Eugene Bannion John Pavilcek Carmen Graves Declan And Carols Graves Millie Singh Jimmy Whelan Yasmin Assaf-Doyle Redman Brown Brian Tomassi Sweetpea Harris Eric Cortez Curtis Taft Tonya Howard Memori Williams Dreena Bailey Milton Ramos Ray Rivera Nora Rivera Esteban Appleyard Stephen Cunliffe Wallice Oliver Stacey Taylor Carlos Hernandez Billy Graves Senior Victor Acosta Richard Kubin Antoine Davis-Bey Salaam Pridgen Dennis Doyle Raymond Del Pino Shakira Barker Patricia Taft Martha Timberwolf Michael Reidy Elvis Perez Stanley Treestes Edna Worthy
That’s up to around page 80, I stopped the list after that, it was getting exhausting. If you find yourself in this novel, I won’t be surprised. I guess cops really meet a lot of people, they have whole townships of the dead and the living mooching around in their mental lobes. Me, I remember the names of around seven people, and I forget two of those usually. I’m not good with names.
THE MYSTERY OF THE TRANSPARENT PSEUDONYM
What’s with this thing on the cover : “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt” ? So apparently, the Times, tells us, :
He wanted to inoculate himself against literary critics who might sneer at him for writing a slicker, more commercial book. He was already late on delivering a separate novel … and hoped to hide the fact that he was moonlighting. And he wanted to see if he could write a stripped-down, heavily plotted best seller, without sacrificing his literary credentials.
The article explains that he found it a drag competing against himself. Okay, I dig that, because I have actually read 3 of his last 4, Freedomland, Lush Life and Clockers, and they are all monumental – vast books about one particular case examined in 700 small font page detail. So I get that he may have wished to change gear. But plenty of other writers do that, they have whole different types of books they write, look at Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates, doesn’t bother those guys, they chuck it all out with the one name on the cover. The article quotes Mr Price
“It seemed like a good idea in the beginning, and now I wish I hadn’t done it,” he said. “This pen name is like pulling a rabbit out of a glass hat.”
Well, I wish he hadn’t either, it’s silly. Although I maybe should have done the pseudonym thing for some of my own more lunatic reviews. I can see the benefit. Could have avoided a lot of flack. Anyway.
Yes, a rather unnecessarily provocative title, since it’s got nowt to do with white people. The cops, apparently, refer to criminals who’ve got away with major crimes due to lack of evidence or the death of witnesses as whites, and that’s what this book is about.
Castro inhaled again, blew out enough smoke to announce a pope.
HOMICIDE-FLAVOURED ICE CREAM
Any Richard Price fan will already be reading this and will not be disappointed, and any Wire fan (Mr Price wrote a few of those shows) who is not yet a Richard Price fan is advised to scoop up this like a new piquant New York homicide-flavoured ice cream. You get a hectic ride all right, although truth be told this more plot-driven style novel only gets going around page 100, but that's okay. By the end, every loose end is tied up, every dark motive brought to the light, it’s positively Victorian. The body count is high. There’s nothing not to like here.
This is Literature with a capital L in the form of a Doric column so high you’ll get a crick in your neck trying to see to the top of it. You really d This is Literature with a capital L in the form of a Doric column so high you’ll get a crick in your neck trying to see to the top of it. You really do feel like you are becoming a better person as you read this novel, even as you fight the drowsiness which is baked into each and every sinuous delectable palpable sensuous lapidary paragraph. Huh? What? What was that??
The story, such as it is, and it really isn't, is that two little sisters are orphaned and then looked after by their grandmamma who ups and dies and then they are looked after by elderly great aunts (they were my favourites but alas they didn’t last long – I think they couldn’t wait to get out of this book too) and then by their mother’s sister Sylvie who is like this kind of elegant bag lady drifter who lets the house go to rack and ruin and cares not a fig if the girls go to school.
There is a lot of mooning about in this novel. This is the third novel I read in recent times in which the protagonist is a teenage girl and who kind-of narrates the whole thing – I Capture the Castle and We Have Always Lived In the Castle were the other two. Maybe this one should have been called Castlekeeping. Okay, maybe not.
When you look at movies narrated by teenaged girls they seem to have a lot more zest, and hardly any mooning about. I’m thinking of Badlands, Clueless, Amelie, Freeway, True Grit, Mean Girls, Easy A, etc. Girls with some pep to them. In Housekeeping, sisters Ruthie and Lucille mostly troop about boredly observing small examples of nature, like bees and ripples and each other’s coats. About three quarters the way through, Lucille gets a little hacked off with this teenage novocaine Walden experience and slings her hook. The reader looks longingly after her but knows he must trudge on.
Here is how you can tell this is literature:
Lucille almost ran down the stairs. We heard the slish and moil of her steps in the hall
Yes, the hall is flooded, but slish and moil, hey? Here’s another:
Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy.
That’s on the same page as slish and moil. Okay, here’s another good one:
She seemed to dislike the disequilibrium of counterpoising a roomful of light against a worldful of darkness.
(Not a world full of darkness, a worldful of darkness. Important difference.)
This actually means that the aunt liked to eat her evening meal in the dark and not switch on the light.
Here’s another one:
Lucille would say I fell asleep, but I did not. I simply let the darkness in the sky become coextensive with the darkness in my skull and bowels and bones. Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world’s true workings.
This is some fancy hifalutin chat coming from such a callow youngster. And it never stops. Here she is thinking about her mother and her aunt (thinking about the mother and the aunt accounts for around 88% of Ruthie’s thoughts, with another 12% spent on her sister. She’s the only teenage girl ever who didn’t once think about pop music.) :
They were both long and narrow women like me, and nerves like theirs walk my legs and gesture my hands.
Eventually the profound musings became like a form of transcendental muzak :
Thoughts bear the same relation, in mass and weight, to the darkness they rise from, as reflections do to the water they ride upon, and in the same way they are arbitrary, or merely given.
Did I think this was any good? Well, you know, some people like Albert Ayler, some people like Jeff Koons, some people even profess to like the films of Eric Rohmer. What is Art? Rock Hudson said Art is a boy’s name.
Maybe we could rephrase that question then. Did I like it?
Here is a 100% fast fun astonishing intriguing hectic sprint through the strange subject of shame. Our tour guide, Jon Ronson, is an amiable journo whHere is a 100% fast fun astonishing intriguing hectic sprint through the strange subject of shame. Our tour guide, Jon Ronson, is an amiable journo who’s cherry-picked a few recent spasms of shaming for our delectation and schadenfreude. Like a freak show, we can gawp and shudder in delicious horror.
It felt like we were soldiers in a war on other people’s flaws
The idea is this. In the olden days public shame was part of the judicial process:
but that was abolished in 1839. And now… it’s BACK. Public shaming has been revived and is in full swing on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. People are making mistakes and they are getting EXTRA-JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT doled out by ourselves, armed with only our keyboards and mices and tablets and iphones. We – us – are now the angry crowd of pitchfork peasants. We shove the miscreants in the stocks and pillories and pelt them with three month old cabbages and decaying turnips.
ONE TWEET AND YOUR LIFE ENDS : JUSTINE SACCO
Here is the example – the Awful Example – of Justine Sacco. Here is what public shame and utter humiliation does. She was a New York PR employee of some hot shit American conglomerate called IAC which I never heard of. On 20 December 2013 she was off on holiday to South Africa. She used Twitter and had around 30 followers. She was at Heathrow airport waiting for the plane to Cape Town and tweeted
Cucumber sandwiches – bad teeth. Back in London!
That was the level – unfunny mild insults about British people. Hmph! But then :
Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!
Jon Ronson says “she chuckled to herself, pressed SEND and wandered around the airport for half an hour, sporadically checking Twitter. ‘I got nothing,’ she told me. ‘No replies.’” Then she went off on her 11 hour flight and couldn’t access Twitter. While she was in the plane her tweet exploded. Here’s how much it exploded: in October 2013 she was googled 30 times. In November 2013 she was googled 30 times. Between 20 and 31 December 2013 she was googled 1,220,000 times.
No words for that horribly disgusting, racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.
Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox news.
From IAC, her employers : This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question is currently unreachable.
Fascinated by the Justine Sacco train wreck. It’s global and apparently she’s still on the plane.
All I want for Christmas is to see Justine Sacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox
In fact her deeply tasteless comment was an attempt to spoof white ignorance. “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making fun of that bubble.”
The world did not get the joke. (“I can’t fully grasp the misconception that’s happened round the world”.) She had to cut short her holiday. “People were threatening to go on strike at the hotels I was booked into if I showed up”. IAC fired her. (In this book people are getting fired for perceived-to-be offensive tweets right and left.) Jon Ronson puts his finger on the reason for the vast avalanche of insult which poured down on Justine Sacco in the last weeks of December 2013:
Dragging down Justine Sacco felt like dragging down every rich white person who’s ever gotten away with making a racist joke because they could.
SILENCE AND RESPECT
So JR looks at various horror stories of this type, of lives destroyed by thoughtlessness. Here’s another example. Two women were guiding a party of disabled adults around Washington for the charity they worked at. They liked to make spoof photos, like smoking in front of No Smoking signs, juvenile stuff like that. They went to Arlington Cemetery and just took leave of their senses. One posed in front of the sign which says “Silence and Respect” – she pretended she was yelling and was giving the finger as well. What humour – it’s the opposite of silence and respect, see? I get it! So did all of Facebook when they insanely put the photo up, and the woman in the photo was fired
and spent a year afraid to leave the house.
SHAMELESS: THE SICK NAZI ORGY
JR examines examples of people who have been horribly shamed but were NOT destroyed. A good example in Britain is Max Mosley. He has had a fair amount of shame to bear in his life – son of Oswald Mosley, who was head of the British Union of Fascists and a supporter of Hitler. Max became head of Formula One racing and he liked to attend S&M parties. One of which was filmed and splattered over a tabloid newspaper here in the UK. There he was whipping girls and being whipped by girls:
F1 BOSS HAS SICK NAZI ORGY WITH 5 HOOKERS
… At one point the wrinkled 67-year-old yells “she needs more of ze punishment!” while brandishing a LEATHER STRAP over a brunette’s naked bottom. Then the lashes rain down as Mosley counts them out in German.
Within a year Max had successfully sued the paper for breach of privacy and appeared on a few general political discussion shows in the UK. It turned out that the public couldn’t care less about S&M orgies. He was unshamed.
This inspires Jon to visit Kink Studios to see if he can answer the question : is the porn industry populated by people immune to shame? Unfortunately he gets frankly rubbishy answers and does not pursue this line. But it does make me wonder – what do the models in even the anodyne disrobings on the most vanilla of porn sites think about their intimate parts captured forever by the internet’s powers of recall? Assuming they don’t stay in the porn biz for life, does this ever have any repercussions in the private or public sphere?
WE ARE THE NEW CROWD OF PEASANTS WITH PITCHFORKS
This book is nothing more than lightweight journalism but JR has a knack – just when you wonder what this or that person in the story had to say, what was their angle, what happened to her afterwards – he’s anticipated you and he’s emailed or skyped or twittered the person and he’s got the reply. Jon interviews James Gilligan (author of Violence: A National Epidemic – read and reviewed!) who says that if shaming people worked prison would work and no one would reoffend, but it doesn’t work. In the end, says Jon, this has been a book about people who didn’t do very much wrong and got vengeance and anger rained down on them. Vengeance and anger and shaming appears to be our default position, here on the internet. I would have liked JR to discuss more why men get shamed in a forensic manner, such as for plagiarism, and women get shamed in a personal manner which very rapidly descends into misogynistic rape & death threats (always the ol’ rape ‘n’ death threats) – he mentions this in a couple of lines then veers off.
But that’s what this book is – filled with interesting ideas and questions, and leaping from one internet zone to another with the alacrity of an Olympic gold medallist gibbon – from Twitter to 4chan to instagram and back again. He didn’t ask us on Goodreads if we had any good stories, though. If he had, we would have collectively put our hands behind our head and gazed at the ceiling and said
Well, now, there was once this retired librarian called Ginnie Jones…