Review: Playing Chicken With Thanatos by Díre McCain (Apophenia Books)

I had the great and rare privilege of reading a manuscript version of this book some time ahead of its final draft and subsequent publication. Then, it had a different working title and a number of changes would follow which made tracing some of the identities of the real-life characters who populate the book rather more difficult. But even in its not-quite complete stage, I was struck by a number of things, not least of all the vibrancy of the narrative, the immediacy of it all, how relatable and accessible the narrator was.

Now, I’ve known the author – virtually, at least, and over Skype – for a number of years: under the auspices of co-founders Díre McCain and D M Mitchell, Paraphilia Magazine generously published my work from the very first issue at a time when no-one else would (a situation that continues, if the truth be known) and have been immensely supportive through the years, long before I clambered aboard as a contributing editor. Díre also graced the Clinical, Brutal anthology I edited for Clinicality Press in 2010 with a piece that was stunning, not to mention truly brutal. So I had an inkling of her abilities as a writer, and indeed of her turbulent formative years. But none of this could have really prepared me for her autobiographical novel.

It’s everything you want from a novel: the narrator drags you along on the journey: at times you sympathise, at others, not so much, but that’s how it is with friends, you take the rough with the smooth. It’s the raw honesty of Díre’s narrative, delivered in a strong, individual voice, that’s so compelling and so human that means you forgive, and you worry about what will happen, you’re there in the moment.

It’s also the fact that however bad things get, however badly she’s treated and however low she sinks, she never plays ‘the victim’, and herein lies the book’s greatest strength: she just tells it straight, and never uses sensationalism to detail sensational events. In this way, Playing Chicken With Thanatos doesn’t sit with the contemporary vogue for memoir, but instead belongs to a strain of classic American autobiographical reportage: Bukowski’s Post Office springs to mind; Jack Black’s You Can’t Win; Burroughs’ Junky, and from over the pond, Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho and Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change. What all these books share is an episodic approach to storytelling and a lack of pretence.

There are moments that are utterly terrifying, and the happy-go-lucky easy rollin’ of teen experimentation with whatever substances are on offer takes a turn into extremely dark territories, and the later sections of the book are indeed harrowing. But it’s by no means a depressing book: even through the bleakest sections, the way the words simply flow is a joy, and the author’s sharp intellect and extensive vocabulary set Playing Chicken With Thanatos leagues apart from any drug-addled confessional. And, despite placing a clear distance between her past and present, at no point does Playing Chicken With Thanatos become a vehicle for anti-drug rhetoric, high moralisation or preaching: the fact Díre doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence – or mar the narrative – with such interjections is another aspect of what makes this book such a great read.

It’s from a purely objective mindset that I say that this book is special, bursting with life and emotional resonance and that for these reasons I give it my strongest recommendations. So do as the preface bids: ‘fasten your fucking seatbelt and hold the fuck on….’

 

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Link: http://www.paraphiliamagazine.com/diremccain/playing-chicken-with-thanatos/

 

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Reviewed: ‘Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane’ by Stewart Home (Penny Ante Editions, 2013)

The one thing it’s possible to predict with the publication of any new Stewart Home book is Home’s unpredictability, and his latest book to be published, Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane is a suitably unpredictable and audacious assault on cultural studies – and a broad range of targets, as it happens.

Although Home is by no means an author who adheres to the adage ‘write what you know’, he does freely admit to drawing on his immediate environment for source material, having presented journal-like reportage in Memphis Underground and based countless characters on thinly-veiled representations of figures in the art scene throughout his career.

It’s for this reason that Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane contains lengthy lists of films, and on-line DVD purchases that look suspiciously like the sort the author himself would buy, along with lengthy reviews of exhibitions written in the style of Home’s blogs, and screes of dialogue on trains and in lecture theatres that appear to have been transcribed from real-life scenarios almost ver batim, or otherwise exist solely to facilitate the expounding of some theory.

I’ve always been one to appropriate dialogue myself, because creating dialogue that reads like it might have actually been spoken is difficult. Ironically, in my experience, and as if to prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction, my lifted dialogue has been criticised for not being credible. In Home’s hands, the absurdity is heightened by the incongruity of context.

There’s also the issue of the 7/7 bombings and the way Home ties this in with the narrator’s delusional quest for some vague domination. This particular event – as Home explained in one of his blog posts – features in the book primarily because it was happening at the time the book was being written and some of the observations on the event are from the author’s own experience of being in London on that day. Yet its inclusion is one of the reasons it’s taken so long for Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane to arrive in the public domain. Recent history, when absorbed within the context of a postmodern novel, is just too sensitive and problematic for most publishers. Of course, Home’s contentiousness is a part of his appeal, and his portrayal of academic life is as likely to cause a stir in certain quarters as the terror thread of the plot.

I’m not referring to the countless sexual antics with students – real or imagined – but the narrator’s criticisms the university system in the UK. Of course, highlighting the issues of the effects of tuition fees and the squeezing of academic resources in the name of profitability is all part of Home’s ongoing critique of capitalism. However, where Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane differs from his earlier ‘skinhead’ books which were overtly and explicitly political, is in the way the issues are addressed. Instead of using his third-person characters as parodic ciphers delivering blunt sloganeering polemic and slabs text by Marx et al, the first-person narrator of Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane offers more subtle yet even more scathing observations from the coal face, as it were.

Home slings in large chunks of review, criticism, critique and theory in trademark fashion (echoing previous works, notably 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess). The narrator’s Marxist reading of Deep Throat is as amusing as it is audacious, and is, of course, classic Home. By establishing his narrator, John – or Charlie – Templeton as a cultural studies lecturer with a chronic drug habit, these skewed academic musings are fitting, and what’s more, in Templeton, Home is also able to play with and dismantle notions of fixed character – even the narrator doesn’t know who he is at times and frequently contradicts himself throughout the story. It may revisit the character shifts in his 1997 novel Come Before Christ and Murder Love, and draw the more absurd elements from Memphis Underground together with elements of Cunt, but then formula has always been an integral aspect of Home’s output, and it never worked to the detriment of the work of any genre author, or Ballard for that matter.

And so the resurfacing of phrases that have appeared variously and numerous times in his previous works is all part of the joke. It isn’t supposed to be subtle, and by now, the reader is supposed to be in on the gag which centres around the fact that Home’s built a career on declaring himself a rampant plagiarist (and notorious / celebrated self-promoter) and now we see him appropriating from himself quite liberally.

Noting in one of his blogs that Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane, like its predecessor Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie was written – at least in part – while installed as a university writer in residence, it’s therefore unsurprising to find Home use the campus as his novel’s primary setting. Equally unsurprising, Home’s choice of location, the City University of Newcastle upon Tyne facilitates the use of its acronym repeatedly throughout the text, adding the type of shock value Home is notorious for before immediately debasing it through endless repetition – which in Home’s eyes renders it all the funnier, in accordance with his recurrent citation of Bergson’s theory that suggests repetition is the basis of all humour. No doubt by the end of the book and the thousandth repetition of CUNT, Home had split his sides and jizzed himself to a husk at his own wit and genius. And rightly so: it was certainly my instinctive reaction. Because as one of the few authors to take postmodernism to a new level and turn its self-celebrating, self-collapsing theoretical existence back in on itself, Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane sees Home remain several steps ahead of the game (even taking into account the fact that this book was written five years ago).

It’s not just the narrator who loses the plot as the book progresses, and what begins in a relatively grounded realist setting (d)evolves into surreal flight of fancy. The ending is, of course, a complete joke, but also – even despite Home’s previous flights into the surreal – a surprise that’s likely to leave you shaking your head. I’d argue that you don’t really read Home’s novels for their plots, however, so much as the explosion of ideas, and on that level, Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane certainly doesn’t disappoint, and, equally importantly, it’s perverse, it’s funny and, put simply, a cracking read.

 

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Concern Grows as Christopher Nosnibor’s Blog Falls Quiet

While the world was in a frenzy over the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic games last night, and many breathed a sigh of relief over the postponement of global wars and financial crises, as well as a temporary suspension of all criminal activity, in particular rape, murder, child molestation and car crime, a small number of observers began to grow agitated by the lack of spouting on Christopher Nosnibor’s blog.

Nosnibor, a music reviewer, novelist and self-appointed commentator with a tendency to fire salvoes of bile into the blogosphere in response to events and phenomena linked to popular culture, has been suspiciously quiet in recent weeks, and following a succession of posts promoting his latest ‘novel’, the mass-market friendly This Book is Fucking Stupid, and a series of outbursts over E. L. James’ bonkbusting mummy porn 50 Shades trilogy and the Olympic torch relay, his blog, hosted by WordPress has lain dormant.

Speculation began to build concerning Nosnibor’s activity before one fellow blogger decided to email him to get the lowdown.

‘Fuck off,’ was the terse reply. ‘I’m working’.

Nosnibor did, however, follow this up with a statement confirming that he was suspending blogging activity for the duration of the Olympics, on the premise that his lack of comment was comment in itself.

‘It’s my equivalent of a boycott’, he explained. ‘Plus, I need to crack on with some reviews and a piece of fiction I’m currently working on. Going to ground while everyone else is immersed in the games seems like a a sound strategy to me.’

Although some observers suggested that this was in itself a form of negative self-promotion and typical of Nosnibor’s recent antics connected with This Book is Fucking Stupid, most simply ignored the whole non-event in much the same way as usual.

On Promotion, or This Blog is Fucking Stupid

Christopher Nosnibor interviews Christopher Nosnibor about his latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid.

CN: So, another book out. How many’s that now?

CN: This is number six, although two are collections of short stories, there’s one novella and a collection of essays and miscellaneous prose works. This is only my second novel proper.

CN: You’ve also published a number of pamphlets and things too, haven’t you? You wrote over 400 music reviews last year, conducted a number of interviews, and still found time to produce several short stories. How do you maintain that kind of work rate?

CN: Yes, there are half a dozen pamphlets with my name on them. I just sit down, shut up and type. I’ve never lacked ideas. So for me, it’s not about ideas, it’s about discipline. Basically, I organise myself to produce something on a daily basis. It’s less about the creative process and more about the production, I suppose. I really am a writing machine, as advertised. It’s no mystery. I have a full-time job, too, but when I get home, rather than piss about and toss off to the telly, I knuckle down to some serious work. Hardly enigmatic or mysterious, I know, but that’s how it is. And if I need a break, I just set the clones to work in my absence. No-one ever seems to notice.

CN: Tell me about the clones.

CN: Like many people, I often wish I could be in more than one place at any give time, had more hours in the day, could do several things simultaneously. It’s one of the less overt themes in From Destinations Set. Cloning myself a little over a year ago eased the burden a little.

CN: The title of your latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid seems like a complete non-starter in commercial terms. Why did you pick suck a self-defeating title?

CN: There’s a certain valour in consigning oneself to failure, and a degree of glory in crashing and burning in a most spectacular fashion. But it has to be truly spectacular. Limping along and failing half-heatedly is the most pathetic of things to see. People are so competitive, it’s a cultural trait. I’ve seen shows on television – not that I’m big on watching television – where the parents in American families tell their children ‘there are two kinds of people: winners and losers, and no child of mine is going to be a loser’, and that kind of mentality really riles me. It’s not a uniquely American thing, though. My idea of rebellion is to devise strategies against this perpetual one-upmanship, which is also a key theme of the story that’s submerged within the book. So rather than make any attempt to compete on the same grounds as everyone else, I set my own objective, namely, if I can’t be the best, I want to be the absolute worst, and truly spectacular at it. With a title like This Book is Fucking Stupid, I’m giving myself a head start toward achieving the kind of commercial failure most losers could only dream of.

CN: You make it sound like you want to be the Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards of the literary world…

CN: To an extent, that’s exactly it. He wasn’t an athlete and never had any expectations beyond calamitous failure, yet he’s better known than most gold-medal winners, simply by virtue of being the absolute worst. So This Book is a double-bluff. The difference between me and Eddie is that while he couldn’t ski for toffee, I actually can write. I mean I’m a technically competent writer, I have a degree in English and the job I do to pay the bills is writing-based. The stuff I’ve produced like THE PLAGIARIST and This Book are written the way they are through choice, but a lot of people don’t seem to get that. I had a story rejected by a magazine not so long ago because they had issues with the way the tenses switched, completely missing the point that the (unreliable) narrator was wrestling with reflections of the past in the present. I’ve always maintained that a writer should learn the rules before breaking them. I know the rules and have produced work that follows them to the letter. In actual fact, the stuff I’ve done that I can’t get published or otherwise gets slated is the most technically correct, but because I’m using the rules against themselves, people just assume I’m clueless. This Book sidesteps all of that by shooting myself in the foot – repeatedly – before even leaving the house.

CN: You say that This Book is a double-bluff…

CN: Absolutely. And it’s working. By pitching it as the worst book ever – which I should point out is certainly isn’t, and despite what’s been said abut it by myself and various reviewers, it’s infinitely better on both a technical and conceptual level than the bulk of recent bestsellers – it’s almost guaranteed to arouse interest. People want to see the worst, or what they’ve heard is the worst – almost as much as they want to see the best. It’s a strategy that seems to be working, too. Only a month after publication, it’s already outsold its predecessor, From Destinations Set.

CN: The hype – in lieu of a more accurate word – seems to have been building for a while, and all seems to have been perpetuated by yourself. Was this an integral part of the strategy too?

CN: When I began promoting This Book is Fucking Stupid, the book didn’t exist, in that it was still very much a concept, and even as I began to post excerpts in my blog, it still didn’t exist as a book because it was far from complete. There was of course something appropriately and inherently stupid in the notion of promoting a book that didn’t exist, although this strategy meant that I had a real incentive to complete the work and get it out into the public domain to save face (the irony being that the finished work would be an act of commercial suicide that probably wouldn’t actually sell even when it did come into circulation. And so the layers of irony continued to build. And so eventually, This Book was published and the promotional machine at Clinicality kicked into overdrive and I went even more overboard in my labours of self-promotion. But being an ebook, we were still promoting a book that effectively didn’t exist, and in material terms, that’s still the case now.

CN: You posted a number of blogs explaining the writing process and the book’s function, and those blogs have in turn been incorporated within the text itself. Do you think you have a tendency to over-explain your work?

CN: Most definitely. I’ve written a fair few pieces explaining my works, probably in significantly more detail than most readers want, let alone need. I have an educational background in English Literature and it’s become second nature to examine text from a theoretical perspective, and my own texts are no exception. Besides, a lot of theoretical work informs my writing, but I’m aware that this isn’t generally all that apparent. Since no-one else is likely to analyse my output, there’s a sort of logic in doing it myself.

CN: Doesn’t that seem rather like a punk band sticking in a jazz number in the middle of a set just to prove they can play? It’s almost as if you feel the need to justify or defend your writing…

CN: I like that analogy, and maybe I do feel that need. Is it a lack of confidence? I dunno. Sometimes, perhaps. I think it’s important to differentiate between writing that intentionally transgresses the established boundaries of literature and writing that’s just plain bad, and it pains me when I’m accused of being a ‘bad’ writer when there are technical elements that are integral to what I’m doing that people miss. Take, for example, a story I wrote a while ago that was, essentially, about the way memory distorts time, and how a recollection of a past event, when experienced in the present, shifts the temporal position of that past event in some way. I tried it round a few on-line journals and zines and no-one would take it. One editor sent me a fairly lengthy email explaining the problems he had with it, the biggest being the way the tenses switched. It left me feeling frustrated because he’d completely missed the point. He’d also assumed that I simply didn’t ‘get’ tenses, rather than purposefully fucked about with them to achieve a specific effect.

I appreciate that some readers will find my technical focus and self-explication irritating, and in some ways, that’s one of my objectives. So I decided with This Book that I’d make the whole theory / practice thing not only explicit, but the subject of the text – or one of the key threads of the text, at least.

CN: Conceptually, it sounds extremely grand, but doesn’t it rail you into something of a dead end?

CN: Yes and no. The scope to expand the book with supplementary material, commentary and straightforward revisions is essentially infinite. That’s the whole point. Because of the nature of the text and the publishing arrangement, new editions can be pushed out as and when. Ten years hence it could run to five or six hundred pages in theory. Plus I’m not averse to new intros and cover art, numbered signed editions, anything else you care to name. Serialisation, a special hypertext edition, audiobook, film, a ‘making of’, anything, everything. By the same token, the point’s already been made simply by virtue of the book’s (virtual) existence, and the book is a dead end as of and in itself. Every book I’ve done to date is a dead end: THE PLAGIARIST was a dead horse long before I started flogging it. Burroughs said he’d taken the cut-ups to their limit by the end of the 1960s: Kenji Siratori effectively produced the same text more than a dozen times in a couple of years, and then I came along ad rehashed the whole thing with some third-hand theory mashed in. I’d dabbled with dual narratives – something already explored by John Giorno in the 60s, 70s and onwards, right into the 90s – again, with my own slant, and by the time I’d finished From Destinations Set I really don’t think there was much scope to take the form further. But at the risk of completely contradicting myself everything I do is concerned with pushing narrative in different directions, I’m not anti-narrative, and I’m not anti-plot, believe it or not. I’m just preoccupied with trying to find new and different ways of writing, and the form and content of my work is invariably intrinsically linked. There will always be new modes of narrative, it’s just a matter of exploring them. I consider that my role as a writer, not because I’m not a story-teller but because I want to render storytelling exciting again, and not in the obvious, conventional ways.

CN: This may seem like a really obvious question but isn’t interviewing yourself completely ridiculous?

CN: It is a really obvious question, and yes, of course it is. Again, that’s the whole point. It comes back to the fundamental premise of the book, that self-reflexivity and self-negation, and the idea that I’d rather provide the academic analysis for my own works – since I’m more than qualified to do so – rather than wait until I’ve been dead twenty years for someone to do it and make a hash of it – or not do it at all. I find it difficult to generate media interest and despite my best efforts, there queue of people waiting to interview me about my latest work never really builds up. And so interviewing myself seems the logical way to go. Plus, I can rely on myself to ask relevant, sensible questions, and if the questions I field aren’t relevant or sensible, I really have only got myself to blame.

CN: The self-interview does feel a little schizophrenic though…

CN: In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari theorise that a schizophrenic mindset is the only same approach to capitalism. I’m inclined to agree. The only way to maintain a thread of sanity is to give oneself to madness.

I’m in good company….

The following review is something I found on-line while working on my forthcoming novel., This Book is Fucking Stupid. It’s a review of Hemingway’s classic The Garden of Eden.

 

I give up.

This book is fucking stupid. There is no story at all. It’s all a bunch of sleeping and eating in France while nothing actually happens. Envy and sex. That’s it. A woman has a mental breakdown and Hemingway obviousy had some rampant sexual fantasies. Now that I know what happens… Catherine loses her mind because she’s jealous of David’s attention to writing…she’s a rich little psycho who wants to be showered in attention constantly. She gets increasingly jealous of his masculinity and she admires it so much that she keeps getting her fucking hair cut more and more and it says online that she even got tailored pants and picked up a chick with whom she had a lesbian affair with. Then she lets David sleep with her too. They’re like some sick happy triangle. Oh my god, really? That’s it? A whole fucking novel for that? My god, the first stage of her psychotic episode seriously took up like a third of the book. Maybe when this was written it was groundbreaking and mind bending so I could be looking at it with completely the wrong mindset and judgmental eyes. I just found it to be such a drag. For me, right now, in 2011 at least. I feel like that was such a waste of life, lol I’m sorry. Wow. Just WOW. Like I said it’s probably a lot more amazing in the context of the time. It took the dude fifteen years to finish. I read the summary on the book and thought it was boring, I should’ve just put it back on the shelf. I guess I wanted a taste of how it was written and how everything played out but I found a lot of babbling, broken scenes with a lot of pointless fluff, a lot of “and”s and a character I really dislike who talks too fucking much and needs counseling. I’m a little disappointed. I should just stick to Poe. There’s always a twist, and if there’s not it at least gets you thinking and stimulates the senses. And Emerson. God, this book made me feel so stir crazy. Crazy. Town. Let me out.

 

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Hemingway: Who are you calling stupid?

 

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Who Are You Calling Stupid?

It’s probably fair to say I’m better known as a music reviewer than anything else. That isn’t to say I’m at all ‘well known’, but everything’s relative. The fact is that my ‘bread and butter’ writing emerges in the form of music reviews. This is primarily on account of the fact that I always wanted to be a music journalist and my first published pieces were reviews which appeared in local and regional inkies in the early 90s when I was in my late teens and early twenties and now I’m living the dream of getting more free music than I can listen to. I might not actually be getting paid, but that’s rather beside the point. I’m doing something I enjoy, which is something very few people can say with absolute sincerity, and consequently it seems daft to stop. Nevertheless, I’m also a writer of fiction, and have had stories published here, there and, well, perhaps not everywhere, but I’ve also written a handful of books, to varying degrees of success. Again, success is a most subjective word, and again, everything’s relative.

My current project, which should emerge into the public sphere in the Summer, is entitled This Book is Fucking Stupid. It’s a surefire hit: of that I’m convinced. Of course, I’ve been equally convinced with previous works, but am at the same time aware that none of my work has even the remotest mainstream appeal.

My most successful book to date – by which I mean the one that’s sold the most copies – is THE PLAGIARIST, a book inspired by William S. Burroughs and Kenji Siratori. Sitting somewhere between Nova Express and Blood Electric, the book was billed as ‘a riot of experimentation’ and reflected my preoccupations with time, space, the limitations of conventional linear narrative and issues of ownership, copyright and ‘originality’. These same preoccupations provided the foundations for From Destinations Set, which explored the possibilities of presenting simultaneously occurring events and pushed the formal style of some of John Giorno’s poems to an extreme within a more overtly narrative context.

This left me with the question ‘what next?’ It isn’t that I won’t or don’t ‘do’ linear narrative, because I do, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that I need to be pushing in new directions and to challenge myself and the conventions of ‘the novel’.

Inspiration hit around Christmas. Stewart Home had just posted a blog on the reader reviews of his books on the Goodreads website. One of the reviews of his novel 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess proclaimed ‘this book is fucking stupid’. Now, sidestepping the samples of the atrocious fiction this ‘reviewer’ had available, I found myself further considering the difficult space that exists between author and reviewer that not only this review, penned by an ‘author’ highlighted, but which provides a core element of the novel in question. However, before these thoughts had begun to evolve in any tangible sense, I posted a comment that ‘this book is fucking stupid’ would make a great title for a book. Stewart posted a reply in agreement, saying ‘let’s see who can write it first!’

It doesn’t take much to get me going when the planets are correctly aligned, and while this may not have been a genuine challenge, I elected to set the writing of this very book as a challenge to myself, and the idea very soon fell together. I’d already written a novella that was languishing on my hard-drive. Destroying the Balance had been kicked out during an intensive spell immediately after I’d completed THE PLAGIARIST. Having completed it, I had felt it lacked something, being all too conventional, and so shortly after began chopping it up and rewriting the text to produce From Destinations Set, which rendered the positions of the two characters more explicitly separate and distinct. Although I was pleased with the result, if not the reception, which was the review equivalent of tumbleweeds blowing through the last one-horse town before the eternal Nowheresville desert, I felt that there was still something to be done with Destroying the Balance.

Like a number of works written around 2008-2009 – including ‘Corrupted from Memory’ which began life as a novella before being trimmed down to 17,000 words for publication in the Paraphilia Books Dream of Stone anthology late on in 2011 – Destroying the Balance took its title from a Joy Division song, namely ‘Passover’ from the second album Closer. It seemed fitting for a story that was centred around the uptight and carefully managed life of a suburban thirty something on the brink of a premature midlife crisis, given that the full lyric is ‘This is the crisis I knew had to come /Destroying the balance I’d kept’.

So, despite having used the text as the basis of From Destinations Set, I could still see scope for another radical overhaul within the context of what I had in mind, namely a book that was the absolute extreme of postmodern information overload and experimental, but in a different way from the books I had produced previously. After all, it’s very easy to write oneself into a cul-de-sac, and also to become stuck in a rut – not to mention becoming typecast as an author of inaccessible or difficult works of limited appeal. I was therefore conscious of a strong need to reign in the wild experimentalism of THE PLAGIARIST in order to repackage the dilemmas of the Postmodern Condition in a more broadly accessible format.

As with all of my works to date, the result is, in many respects, an abject failure. Yet this failure is equally a measure of success. While segments continue to circulate amongst reviewers and to be touted to periodicals to largely negative responses, the final version of the book continues to expand, and the project’s incorporation of all of the pre-release responses – the more negative the better – means that the book is creating its own anti-cult. This is precisely the inversion of all things – from literary tropes to the commodification of literature – that I had aspired to. Put simply, the whole purpose of This Book was (and I intentionally speak of it in the past tense despite the fact it remains to be completed) one of self-negation.

The premise of the avant-garde was to destroy all that preceded in order to create anew, and subsequently, postmodernism has devoted considerable time and energy proclaiming the death of practically everything. My objective was to create a work that killed postmodernism by beating it at its own game and producing a text that was entirely self-collapsing, and, more importantly, self-contained. Postmodern criticism has (arguably, contentiously) written itself into a self-negating web of endlessly cyclical (self-)analysis, while postmodern novels have taken self-reflexivity to a point that seemingly cannot be exceeded. And that was precisely my plan: This Book needed to not only contain everything that had and could be said about it, but to preemptively comment on it.

This book will eat itself. There really is no success like failure.

 

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The Novel is Under Threat….

For some time now, the status of the novel has been under threat, not just from technological developments like the Kindle, but from self-suffocation and overanalysis. In attempting to break free of the shackles of conventions, authors of contemporary fiction have pushed the novel to breaking point. Readers of modern literary fiction can often find themselves baffled by bewildering texts, devoid of plot or characterization, so-called novels that aren’t really novels and aren’t clear about what they are. Sometimes, it seems as though even the writers don’t know. So desperate are they to create something new and exciting, they’ve lost sight of why most people read books in the first place, and end up creating some weird and horrible mish-mash of documentary and memoir along with social commentary and whatever else comes to hand, all in convoluted plots about writing the book you’re reading that disappear into thin air midway through. These are the most frustrating sorts of books – and they’re not really novels, and to market them as such seems disingenuous.

Book reviewers in the press and on-line tend to be no help, and if anything compound the problem. Most of them are wannabe writers themselves, and use their reviews to show off their writing skills. And of course, they wouldn’t want to lose face by admitting they didn’t like a book that’s supposed to be clever, or, that the unthinkable happened and they didn’t get it. So the parade of books dressed in the emperor’s new clothes continues. For my money, the reviews posted on-line on Amazon and Goodreads by real readers who aren’t pretentious and who don’t have opinions that are clouded by self-interest are far more reliable and more easy to read too.

Then there’s academia. Academic writing makes the guff the reviewers spew out look positively straightforward. The analysis gets so bogged down in theory and the minutiae that all relation to the book that’s under discussion is lost. The prevalent style of academic writing seems designed primarily to obfuscate any trace of logical, linear argument, and for no other reason than to bewilder mere mortals with the density of language that says little more than ‘look how clever I am’. The emperor threw these clothes out a long time ago when they became threadbare and unfashionable. Stuck in its ivory tower with its head up its superior, self-satisfied ass, academia has failed to realise that the game’s up.


It’s for this reason that a recent crop of pseudo-intellectual smart-arse writers who think they’re ahead of the game by combining elements of criticism and commentary within their ‘novels’ – and I use the term loosely given the negligible semblance of plot and the general absence of characters you can believe in, let alone identify with – really are fulfilling their own prophecies regarding the death of the novel by spewing out such atrociously smug, self-indulgent, meaningless drivel. I mean, if you’re going to kill the novel, atrocious dross like these self-referential treatises are bound to do the trick. And, quel surprise, marginal as these authors may be, they’re getting noticed and building up cult followings because the critics are lavishing their abysmal turgid texts with gushing praise and their bands of cronies corralled together via social networking sites – first of all MySpace, and now Facebook – are on hand with sycophantic applause.

 

Nosnibor’s latest novel – the ironically (or perhaps appropriately) titled This Book is Fucking Stupid – is probably the worst offender of all the books I’ve seen to date. The story is bland and bot very well written with really dull characters who go nowhere, and it’s largely buried beneath endless pages of insertions, including reviews, academic criticism and lengthy passages of pointless commentary from the author. Some of these begin like memoir, and look like they might offer some useful insight into the mind of the writer, but they invariably descend into rants or a platform for something else, and the reader is left none the wiser as to his motivations. Consequently, I ended up with the opinion that the author is even more delusional and moronic than I had thought before, and any interest I may have had in him as a person had completely dissipated. I sincerely hope I never find myself stuck in a lift with this tedious, self-interested egotist who hides having precisely nothing to say behind endless layers of artifice and façade. The most pointless and pathetic attempt at a novel you’re likely to read. If you can honestly say you find something good about this book and can find the ‘point’ to it, you’re smarter than me. Or, more likely, you’re a pretentious asshole and you’re just pretending.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk