Wow - calling all goodreaders with Christmas present problems - look no further. Buy this one for anyone! They'll never have seen anything like it, an...moreWow - calling all goodreaders with Christmas present problems - look no further. Buy this one for anyone! They'll never have seen anything like it, and they'll love it. Flinty grandfathers and surly 9 year olds will all love this. It's an entirely wordless story about emigrating and trying to make a new life, with a twist of Jules Verne steampunk. Shaun Tan is absolutely brilliant. The world he creates is familiar and strange and heartbreaking too. Let the rest of this review be wordless too.
If you don’t want to read about the gory details of fleshy entangulations and of bodily fluid by the bucketful...moreAn 18-rated review of an 18-rated book.
If you don’t want to read about the gory details of fleshy entangulations and of bodily fluid by the bucketful, then you need to steer well clear of M. Houellebecq. He’s all about that.
The sex is like the worst kind of bad cartoon porn and we can’t possibly be meant to take it seriously. I don’t really know what it’s doing in here. He’s trying to make a serious or black-comedy ironic point about the state of first world/third world relationships and how everyone could be made happier if we only just lightened up about sex tourism. And he scuppers his own novel because he includes this stuff :
(Michel – that’s the protagonist, yes, same name as the novelist, and his brilliant girlfriend Valerie are out on the town in Paris. Now read on!)
It was a Saturday night, the place was quite full. We met a really nice black couple; she was a nurse and he was a jazz drummer. …[three sentences later] We finished our drinks and headed up to the rooms. He suggested a double penetration to Valerie. She agreed, as long as I was the one to sodomise her.
So the two guys do the two girls and I must admit I lolled at this :
Everything went smoothly, I was agreeably surprised by my own stamina.
Well, bien sur, mon ami, that’s what happens in porn. The sex is always stratospheric, the orgasms always geyser forth like an Icelandic hot spring, and everyone is able to have about five or six per hour, the gentlemen’s members are always like several iron bars welded together, they never ever suffer from erectile dysfunction, and the girls always regard what comes out of the end of them like normal people regard a glass of Vosne-Romanee burgundy, the girls are always gagging to have everything shoved everywhere, and they always want to do it again ten minutes later, and no one has any diseases.
So Michel and Valerie’s evening struck me as a little unlikely, but maybe I should get out more. Or not, of course.
A few pages before that, they were in Cuba on holiday having sex in their hotel room, and they’ve left the curtains open. A maid sees them.
Valerie got up, walked towards her, and held out her hands.
And that’s all it takes – the maid is young, gorgeous, and completely into the idea of a threesome at the drop of a broom. Mais bien sur, again. She’s not 52, varicose-veined and asthmatic. Well, this is all ridiculous French Swingers A-Go-Go, and it makes it Platform a very silly novel indeed.
This novel is about sex tourism and never mentions drugs, or the miserable lives of the sex workers. In fact, all the sex workers are happy hookers who are glad to be able to work that thing to bring joy to the face of whatever potbellied manbreasted Western male they are lucky enough to have copped off with. I should say that this did not make Platform resound with believability for me.
Anyway, in Platform we get the narrative of a disenchanted loner who goes on a sex holiday to Thailand and hooks up with one of his fellow tourists Valerie and falls in love. And they have great and plentiful sex (see above). He’s in his 40s, she’s 28 with a cleavage to drown in and she likes girls too. Naturellement! So this is standard male fantasy territory (in porn and in Hollywood, all males over the age of 40 are able to captivate a knockout girl in her 20s. Also in arty movies, same thing. Look at all Woody Allen movies. I saw Manhattan recently - in that a late 30s Woody is sleeping with Marielle Hemingway who is 17. Sorry, I digress).
Added to that, and given equal prominence, is a steady stream of piquant miserablist ruminations on the state of life in the West. I cannot deny, these are hysterical.
Men live alongside one another like cattle; it is a miracle if once in a while they manage to share a bottle of booze.
It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it’s that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable.
In most circumstances of my life, I have had about as much freedom as a vacuum cleaner.
Gradually everything becomes too difficult : that’s what life comes down to.
When all’s said and done, the idea of the uniqueness of the individual is nothing more than pompous absurdity.
Anything can happen in life, especially nothing.
And, the aphorism which seems to sum up MH’s jeremiad pretty well :
We have created a system in which it has simply become impossible to live; and what’s more, we continue to export it.
Anyway, MH-the-protagonist goes on at length about how in the West we all run around working like mad and making money and in the process becoming so exhausted that sex – never mind love – becomes far too much trouble. We’ve become so picky and self-centred we wouldn’t dream of devoting ourselves to the pleasure of others, even for 15 minutes. So we have money but we’re miserable, because we still want the sex and the affection. Therefore, we should all – men and women – go to Thailand for 2 weeks every year. There the natives have nothing except their extremely attractive bodies. They love nothing more than to devote their entire working lives to making you – yes you! come on, no false modesty please – achieve the kind of orgasms you never knew were possible. You know you want to!
To sum up the rest of the novel – “and we’d have gotten away with it too, ifn it weren’t for them pesky Muslim terrorists!”
This was a fun novel to read – it was so odd, so ridiculous, so pompous, so off the scale unrealistic, so almost-racist, so insulting to all and sundry including specific Frederick Forsyth and John Grisham novels (he takes a page or so to slag off these books, quoting from them without any acknowledgement anywhere), so downbeat and so raving mad that I should give it 3 stars, except that it really is almost complete rubbish.
There was a game show on British tv called Family Fortunes. One time the question was asked : “Name a dangerous race.” Quick as a flash, one guy bange...moreThere was a game show on British tv called Family Fortunes. One time the question was asked : “Name a dangerous race.” Quick as a flash, one guy banged his bell and shouted “Arabs!”. The game show host said no, that was not on the card. Another contestant guessed Formula One and she won that round.
I didn’t want to read a book on racism particularly, I wanted to find out about the history of the whole concept of “race” – how it developed, and what the current state of thinking is. But I couldn’t find one. It seems to be a pariah subject. However, a lot of this book is exactly what I was looking for.
You can see the development of scientific, secular thought over the last four hundred years as a little like the grand old Duke of York. We get marched up to the top of the hill, where we survey all around us from a perfect pinnacle of superior knowledge; but then we get marched back down again…
First there was the painful struggle to make any kind of basic sense of the material world. This led to the mania for classifying stuff (Noah, Linnaeus, Darwin, etc). Establishing categories is tough. But then, having got all this down, in nice neat lists, by the early 20th century, there came the modern desire to break it all down again, and disassemble all the hardwon clear lines – deconstructionists tear holes in texts and in readers, quantum physicists use the erasers on the end of their pencils to blur the boundaries between matter and time and yoghurt, and so on until as your man Marx said all that is solid melts into air.
So it goes with the idea of race. The human biologists and anthropologists of the 19th century built up many different taxonomies of race, all of which have been thrown in the Dumpster of Obsolete Ideas :
Even self-confessed racists appear to have as little agreement about how many races exist and how exactly they are to be differentiated. … This is simply because humanity cannot be divided into races. (p86) …The concept of race is now regarded by the majority of biologists as having no credible scientific foundation. (p75)
He mentions the “one drop” rule which was applied in the law of the Southern States of the USA at one time – if you had even one drop of black blood in your veins, you were black. He says that if that rule applied the other way round, that if there was one drop of white blood in you, you were white, there would be very few black people left in America. This is to demonstrate the fatuity of hard and fast racial division – it can’t be done.
A personal aside : my Muslim friend grew up here in Nottingham being called a Paki. He was born in England, and his parents came here two or three years before the creation of the state of Pakistan in 1947. But still, all his life he’s been routinely shoved into this category. It’s even on British census forms. (“Ethnic origin : Pakistan” is one of the boxes you can tick on the forms, even though “Pakistan” is not an ethnicity because it’s a political invention.)
All right, so there’s no such thing as race! But of course there is such a thing as racism. It’s kind of like being an atheist in the Vatican – you know there’s no God, but all these people here are sure acting like there is one. So, with respect to modern thinking, saying there’s no such thing as race doesn’t get us very far. For a start, it makes the term racism a nonsense. He doesn’t say so, but I think Rattansi might wish to rename racism as geo-culturalism, because that’s something he does accept the reality of – particular cultures which are located in particular places on the globe.
That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.
After dismantling race, Rattansi then trains his argument on racists. To be racist, you have to feel firstly that you yourself have an identity, individual and collective, which you consider different from other particular individuals. So far so obvious – the racist thing is to discriminate between one group (yours) and another. Rattansi tells us that the further we look at individual psychology, the more identity becomes difficult to grasp. You have multiple identities, not one. You may be a wife, mother, sister, daughter, Christian, adulterer, Greek-American, country music fan, blah blah, all in one person.
Identities are rarely coherent and integrated. They are prone to inconsistency and contradiction.
The different identities we have can involve different behaviours and moralities. We can see this in the bizarre lives led by concentration camp commandants, who led exemplary and affectionate family lives in houses within the grounds of the camps where thousands were dying every day.
The multiplicity of identities of individuals as well as the resulting de-centredness of their subjectivity is such that individuals are not always fully knowledgeable about the layers of identification in their makeup, nor in control of their responses, so that they may end up behaving in a manner they abhor and have long tried to avoid.
He is therefore critical of those who bandy the epithet “racist” in a manner he describes as “simplistic”. He’s trying to get away from arid, entrenched shouting matches. So first, he deconstructs “race”, then “identity”, and then “racism”. But he quotes the following statistic: in the USA, in 2001, the real median income of black families was 58% that of white families. Which was only 10% higher than the 1947 figure. And : in South Central Los Angeles the ratio of primary care doctors to the population was 1 to 12,993 (in 2003). In Bel Air (a wealthy neighbourhood) it was 1 to 214.
This in spite of white Americans’ belief that serious racial discrimination is a thing of the past.
Anyway, we surely need no statistics here – the names of Stephen Lawrence, Jean Charles de Menezes, Rodney King, O J Simpson and Anders Behring Breivik ring out over the decades.
It’s a bit of a grim subject, but fans of irony won’t want to miss how Lord Macauley in 1835 proposed an Indian education system for producing “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, opinions, in morals, and in intellect” who would act as “interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern”. This was the education system which led directly to creation of the nationalist movement and the overthrow of British rule. The British were interpreted right out of India.
This review could go on – I have to resist throwing in a paragraph about Trevor Phillips’ remark about Britain “sleepwalking into segregation” because of multiculturalism. And what about the whole Islamophobia debate – is that racism? Rattansi quotes the case of a white British guy previously married to a Chinese woman, currently living with a Jamaican woman, and waging a violent one-man bomb-throwing war against the local mosque. I would like to point out the rise and fall in local elections here of the British National Party, and the egregious slimebags in the English Defence League. Or how the British census, by trying to find out where public resources are most needed to combat institutionalised racism, perpetuates racist thinking by its insistence that everyone is categorised ("White: other"). But I have detained you too long.
This is a very thought-provoking introduction to a fearsomely complex problem which will not be going away any time soon. (less)
I was at a party in Manhattan once, it was 1985. This woman I slightly knew turned to me and said “I have something you’ll be interested in, wait one...moreI was at a party in Manhattan once, it was 1985. This woman I slightly knew turned to me and said “I have something you’ll be interested in, wait one moment.” So I waited, I mean, I wasn’t about to project myself from the nearby window, I wasn’t freaking out. She brought back a thing about the size of a large Toby jug and thrust it into my hands. It was Donald Barthelme. Yes, the Donald Barthelme. Not a Toby jug caricature, the actual original author of all those arch short stories. Tell you the truth, I was nonplussed, like if she had thrust a sizeable cat into my arms. What was Barthelme going to do? Would he wriggle out of my arms and embarrass me? Would he find my clumsy embrace pleasant, like a day trip to York minster or a chicken korma? Would he transfer his affections to me? I have to admit I was madly calculating if he was rich like Updike, but I figured from the state of his suit and shoes that no, the New Yorker liked him but not that much.
Well, I kind of shuffled around talking to people, like you do at these things, and each time I’d say look, this is Donald Barthelme, and my fellow guests would wrinkle their noses and make silly comments like “it’s clear you were meant for each other” etc. Barthelme himself was fairly drunk and was contented with swivelling his intense glare from my face to that of my interlocutor, depending on who was speaking. That is, he glared at whoever wasn’t speaking at any one time. I guess these writers have all these cool ways of observing people.
It turned out that Gina had been trying to get rid of Donald Barthelme for weeks and nobody would take him. I was the only idiot too polite to give him back. So he came home with me. To be honest, by 1985 his great days were over (ha, did you get that?). He coughed out one rather dodgy novel the following year (Paradise) and he was working on another one when I just got sick of looking after him. I’m not proud of what I did. I didn’t know he was terminally ill. It was 1987 so, you know, I’d been funnelling whisky down his gullet and managing his various marriages and divorces for two whole years. I was tired, I wanted my own life back. So one day I just shoved him in the trunk of my car and drove up to Poughkeepsie and left him outside the first library I could find. He didn’t seem that bothered. He was a cool ironist to the last, gotta give him that.
I get it – the vagina on the cover looks like a buttonhole – clever, that. Book cover of the year!
This book is based on the real-life case of Debra La...moreI get it – the vagina on the cover looks like a buttonhole – clever, that. Book cover of the year!
This book is based on the real-life case of Debra Lafave, who was busted in, yes, Tampa in 2005 for "Lewd or Lascivious Battery" against a 14 year old boy. She was his teacher. She was 23 at the time.
As you may know, this deliquescent, oozing and dripping Boylita novel is about as un-pc as you can get. Whereas Mr Nabokov’s brilliant Lolita skirts around the actual sex because that was probably the very last thing our Vlad wanted to write about and also because they would have put him in prison if he had, Tampa revels in every lubricious manoeuvre, every genital twitch, pulse and torque detailed, every orifice given the attention a marine biologist devotes to the life cycle of the sea anemone. These sections are as porny as can be. Two questions then assault the reader –
1) is this erotic? Are you getting turned on? If so, please note you are getting turned on by descriptions of a 26 year old female teacher and a just turned 14 year old boy. You know, like, ew. But hey, you say, that’s okay, because this is a fiction. You know, fantasy. It’s made up. So it’s okay.
Well, 2) how about mentally reversing the sexes, so that it’s a 26 year old male teacher and a just turned 14 year old girl. Yeah, maybe then the it’s-just-fantasy thing wouldn’t work. I wonder why that might be? Someone should try to get a reversed-gender Tampa published and report back. So we seem to have a novel about this giant gender attitude imbalance thing here.
We can say with some confidence that Miss Nutting has written a deliberately provocative novel (and has got a lot of people’s attention I understand). It is true that occasionally, very occasionally, you get a case where a woman sexually harasses a man at work. Out of ten gazillion cases of sexual harassment, you get one where the man is the victim. And this case gets on the news (because it’s so rare) and Michael Douglas makes a movie about it . This then provides limitless joy to all the creeps who then say there you are, women are just as bad as men. Of course, they aren’t – one Aileen Wuornos does not a thousand Ted Bundys equate to. One husband beater does not balance out the billion wife beaters on the planet. But the creeps like to say it does, looking for an excuse to call women and especially feminists a few names, get some of their own back, since they’ve been backed into a corner lately and they pine for the days where you could get away with murder.
When you write about these rare exceptions, it’s like you’re giving aid and comfort to the enemy, you’re giving them this ammunition. When one feminist organised a conference about female paedophilia, other feminists turned up for the sole reason of shouting abuse at her and shutting it all down :
There is no comparison between Tampa and Lolita in terms of style – I know that Alissa Nutting has a breathtaking turn of phrase on occasion from reading her great collection (Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls) but in Tampa she’s in character – Celeste Price is a chilly misanthropic paedophile – she has no friends, no relations, hates her husband and strongly dislikes her work colleagues - so her first person account of the whole debacle is in appropriately businesslike and brisk language except for the descriptions of the sex. But one thing both novels stress in exactly the same way – both Humbert and Celeste are fixated on children of a very specific age, and as soon as they grow past that age and their bodies change, there’s no attraction any more, and they drop the one they have been having like a hot potato, and seek a new model.
I think this novel is hard to love and actually not that easy to like, either. It throws you into the moral maze which I have suggested above. The boys involved LOVE their school detentions with their hot blonde teacher, you bet they do. Even when she has to impart something disagreeable, she has a way of softening the blow:
(view spoiler)[ “Put your hands on my breasts,” I instructed. “I have to tell you something traumatic and you need to be reminded of all the good that’s here in the world for you to enjoy.” Wordlessly, Jack clutched his palms onto my breasts and swallowed. “Your father had a heart attack.” (hide spoiler)]
But Celeste, I fear, is in the end a fictitious character by which I mean fake. Even though based on a real case, I couldn’t believe in her for one moment. She’s 100% obsessed with getting her rocks off with a 14 year old boy. All the time. Morning noon and night. Never exhausted when there’s a 14 year old in the house. Never says no. She’s like the great Mae West one-liner : “I’m feeling rather tired tonight, boys – three of you will have to go home”. Celeste is, in fact, like those rather unrealistic representations of women in porn. Just because she has a deviant sexual predilection surely doesn’t therefore mean she’s The Beast with the Unstoppable Loins – isn’t that like giving your villain a cruel moustache and penchant for squashing small animals?
What Celeste does have is a fabulous line in narcissism :
I wondered what percentage of the Jefferson Junior High students – if I came to them in the middle of the night, naked – would agree to have sex with me even if it would mean they’d die forty-eight hours later. I guessed there would be at least a small few.
Like a tollbooth in his memory, every partner he’d have afterward would have to pass through the gate of my comparison, and it would be a losing comparison.
A semi-tumescent 3.5 stars, then, and some Kleenex. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Here we have Dale Peck doing the fish slapping dance with a few of his literary contemporaries, and I love it. They have to stand there rigid and appe...moreHere we have Dale Peck doing the fish slapping dance with a few of his literary contemporaries, and I love it. They have to stand there rigid and appearing to be unconcerned while sprightly Dale hops around, derides them horribly, and slaps their chops with a large haddock. I would give this book 5 stars, but mostly, Dale is beating up on authors I haven't read and - now! - have no intention of reading, so it's mostly somebody else's (beautifully invectivised) argument. The authors here dissected, filleted and grossly insulted who I never read are :
Sven Birkerts Colson Whitehead Jamaica Kincaid Terry McMillan Jim Crace Stanley Crouch Rick Moody
and the ones I have read are
DFW Kurt Vonnegut Julian Barnes Sapphire Philip Roth
So I guess this is the hipster version of B R Myers' A Reader's Manifesto which denounced certain American literary authors for their pretensions and general wanky unreadability. Here's Dale speaking generally :
even taking into consideration the theory that cinematic and virtual media have displaced the printed word as the dominant narrative form and that the novel and its grown-too-big-for-its-britches sibling, the memoir, are only occasionally profitable anachronisms; even recognising that literary standards and technological advances have made it theoretically feasible for just about anyone to write and publish a book [Dale was writing in 2004] - even considering all these factors, the number of Stepford novels that are written, published, reviewed, and read every year is completely out of control. ....
Blame the writing programs and the prize committees, blame the deconstructionist literary critics or the back-patting Siamese-twinned professions of writing and reviewing fiction, blame any or all of the identity communities who read and write those ethnic-or-gender-marketed booster books or blame the dead white European males who forced us to resort to Literature as our Daily Affirmation in the first place.
And here's a flavour of his specific charges - first, against Stanley Crouch :
Crouch is neither virtuosic nor possessed of good marksmanship; he's just another demagogue in an age that confuses demagoguery with honesty; a black man who uses the veil of anti-pc polemic to make criticisms of black culture that white Americans are either too cowed or too smart to put forth themselves... suffice it to say that here is one black man calling other black men monkeys, denying blackness to those African Americans who fail to live up to his standards and conferring it on those who do. ... Don't the Moon Look Lonesome is a terrible novel, badly conceived, badly executed, and put forward in bad faith...
and now David Foster Wallace :
What makes Infinite Jest's success even more noteworthy is that it is, in a word, terrible. Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous and - perhaps especially - uncontrolled. I would, in fact, go so far as to say that infinite Jest is one of the very few novels for which the phrase "not worth the paper it's printed on" has real meaning at least in an ecological sense; but to resort to such hyperbole would be to fall into the rut that characterizes many reviews of this novel... I resent the five weeks of my life I gave over to reading the thing; I resent every endlessly over-elaborated gag in the book, like a ten-page riff on why video telephones are unviable, or the dozen pages on the teenager who won all his tennis matches by playing with a pistol held to his head, or the thousands and thousands and thousands of words devoted to pharmaceutical trivia on all sorts of mind-altering drugs.... I could, a la Edward Said, accuseWallace of cultural colonialism in the peppering of his otherwise exclusively white male text with exoticized African-Americans, women, and homosexuals, and, further, I think the case can be made that the narrative technique Wallace has derived from Pynchon is nothing more than a watered-down de(homo)-eroticized style that lives on Sontag's "barren edge of Camp".
You may not agree with Dale, but I still recommed his book, because for some of us bookish types, it's the nearest thing to a bracing walk in a drench of freezing rain on a cliff path with crumbly edges and no guard rail.