Redressing the Balance: This Book Isn’t Nearly as Stupid as the Title Suggests… Or Is It?

For all of the claims made by myself and my publisher for the audacious anti-literary bent that drives my latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid, the fact that the core thread – the story itself – is essentially a straightforward piece of contemporary literary fiction is something that’s been very much underplayed.

As the paperback edition is out today, I thought it would be an idea to post an excerpt from one of the more conventional narrative passages, if only to prove to the world that as a writer I am capable of ‘normal’ things like plot and character development (after a fashion) and not only about text that function on a theoretical level…. Ok, well I half mean it…

 

from This Book is Fucking Stupid

 

It was just another day at the office, the same as any other. Ben sat at his desk. He had spent the last three hours trying desperately to compile his latest report based on a series of site visits to out-of-town shopping developments ahead of Friday’s deadline, but it was proving nigh on impossible. For a start, the buildings were in a poor state of repair: his surveys had uncovered a number of significant structural flaws which were bad news all round. The trouble was, he found these modern prefabricated monstrosities composed of concrete and corrugated iron the most uninspiring of all buildings to assess, and while he had most of the information he required to hand, some of his notes were a little patchy regarding some of the sites, as he had been tired, bored and hungover while conducting the surveys. That said, he didn’t really find buildings in themselves all that inspiring. Surveying hadn’t been a calling for him, but then, for whom is surveying a calling, a passion? Surveying was a job, which required an even and pragmatic approach to factual data and a grasp of figures and certain scientific concepts regarding the deterioration of concrete, the weakening of iron girders, the flammability of certain materials and so on.
    The appreciation of architecture was not a prerequisite for becoming a government inspector of commercial property. Yes, a civil servant. But the modern out-of-town retail park developments were still the worst: once you had seen one, you had seen them all. But feeling tired and grotty made any report on such buildings even more wearisome, and with a tight deadline looming, even more troublesome to a man who was not a big fan of typing long reports, preferring, if possible, to keep communications down to brief notes and bullet-points. Equally troublesome, his phones – landline and mobile – kept ringing, interfering with his train of thought. No sooner had he regained his flow and begun formulating a coherent sentence detailing the defects in the roofing structures or damp coursing than another call would demand his attention and haul him away from the job at hand for just long enough for him to forget exactly what it was he had been about to write next.
    Ben sat and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He had been staring at the screen for what felt like hours. How long it had really been, he was uncertain. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. He had spent the last week and a half driving long-distance between the sites he was surveying for this report – Wednesday last, Southampton, Thursday last Birmingham, Friday last Nottingham, followed by Bath on Monday, Stoke on Tuesday, Newcastle on Wednesday and Norwich this morning – before returning to the office with a sheaf of scribbled notes, digital camera shots, notes recorded on a Dictaphone while on the tops of various buildings, muffled and inaudible due to high winds blasting across the mic as he had mumbled tiredly and unenthusiastically about various joists and joints. He rubbed his eyes again and returned his bleary eyes to the screen. He rubbed his eyes again and returned his bleary pupils to the screen. He needed a break. Needed to clear his head, to regain his focus. Yes, he had a deadline looming, but he’d never make it like this, he simply couldn’t focus his mind.
    The Foo Fighters’ track ‘The Best of You’ rattled from his pocket for the umpteenth time that day. He loved that song – it rocked – but he was beginning to tire of its polyphonic yet stunted ring-tone version intruding into his life every five minutes. He was also weary of his works mobile. Why they wouldn’t upgrade to something more contemporary and functional like an iPhone or a Blackberry, he had no idea.
    It wasn’t that Ben was a he fan of the iPhone, although he did rather like its multimedia functionality, and its now classic design. He liked its dimensions, a cozy yet suitably chunky 115.5mm x 62.1mm 12.3 and comforting 133g weight. He also had an appreciation for its TFT capacitive touchscreen, even if its sleek surface, with its with its scratch-resistant oleophobic coating, became a slick of greasy thumb-prints within seconds, even while in the pocket, and these obscured the screen, despite its presenting a respectable 320×480 pixel 3.5” view at a density of 165 pixels per inch. Similarly, the Blackberry was a classic example of contemporary design. The Curve 8900 had real appeal. Despite the rather fiddly QWERTY keypad, it was practically a mobile office that would fit in the pocket, and with its 256MB ROM memory, 250ppi display, albeit at a smaller 2.5” – a whole inch smaller than that of the iPhone – its 65K colours made it suitable for checking out pics emailed from different sites while on the move, and then there was the card slot with a reader that could handle an SD card of up to 32GB. It also had the better camera. Still, neither the iPhone nor the Blackberry had a battery life worth writing home about, while the clunky piece of Nokia crap work had provided him with only needed charging once a week.
    He checked the name on the incoming call. It was Ruth, his ‘better half.’ They had been together almost eight years now – long enough for him to have known almost instinctively that it would have been her ringing.
    “Hi, Ru,” he said, half sighing, half croaking, his voice cracked with fatigue.
    “Hey,” she chirruped back.
    A slight pause – as was customary. He never liked to jump in and ask why she was phoning this time – it sounded tetchy, and she was the sensitive type – but she never came straight out with anything either, hence the waggledance of telephonic etiquette each time they spoke, even after all this time. Particularly after all this time: it had become habit, and he knew it. He knew not, however, of a way to break it, or even if there was any point in doing so – or even if he wanted to do so. It was harmless, but did take seconds out of his busy day. Seconds that could have been spent on other matters. He fought this involuntary irritation that he felt – that he had been feeling for the past few weeks, or possibly longer, he’s not been paying that much attention as he’d had a lot going on – and reminded himself that Ruth didn’t actually do anything to annoy him and that his tiredness was simply making him irrationally irritable. It wasn’t his fault he was tired and stressed. It wasn’t her fault he was tired and stressed. He just was.
    “Hey,” he echoed back, as he commonly did. It bought time, breathing space, signalled to her that he was listening, like a call-and-response of ‘Copy,’ ‘Roger.’
    “I was just wondering what time you’d be home for tea tonight,” she said in her usual even, gentle tone.
    He sighed and rubbed his tired, itchy eyes again. Ruth liked her routine. Daily, she called around 3.30 or 4pm to enquire when he’d be home, although he was rarely able to give a specific answer. There were invariably deadlines to be met, which frequently entailed working later than anticipated, however he budgeted his time, however hard he worked, and however closely he worked to the premise that however long one anticipates something taking, double it and add ten per cent to get a more accurate estimate. Then there was the matter of the drive home. On a good day – or a weekend – it would be a 40-minute drive. But on a weekday, during the rush two hours, it could be anything up to an hour and a half, and that was provided there were no accidents, freak storms or other unusual circumstances which may extend the journey time still further. Ben enjoyed driving, but did not enjoy being stuck in slow-moving traffic for hours on end on the same stretches of rode night after night. Open country roads with the windows down, the wind in his hair, shades on and the stereo up loud and his foot the the floor, that was his idea of driving. It was to liberating, that sense of freedom, the idea he could go anywhere he wanted, and fast. It was the precise opposite of being hemmed in between the mushroom walls of the office in which he worked, with its Jacobs Twist Axminster carpet in a fetching shade of blue-grey by the name of Fen and regimented rows of desks, each with identical Dell base units and monitors, accompanied by ergonomic keyboards and mice and standard-issue high-backed office chairs without arms.
    “I dunno,” he replied after a pause. “I’ve got a lot on at the moment.” “Ok, do you think you’ll be home before eight-ahuh?” she asked, her voice rising at the end and a small not-quite-laugh following the last syllable. He pictured her, smiling as she did, her nose wrinkled a little and her eyes half-closed, an endearing expression which he had been fond of from the outset when they had met some seven years ago. How time flew! He had been in his early twenties then, and having recently relocated following the securing of a decent job in Sheffield, Ben had been on the brink of embarkation on his career proper.
    “I don’t know,” he reiterated. “I hope so, but I wouldn’t like to say for definite.”
    “Ok, well I thought we might have chops tonight and they grill in no time, so I shall wait until you get in before starting the tea.”
    “Fine.”
    “Call me when you’re leaving work?”
    “Sure.”
    “Ok, I’ll speak to you later, bye.”
    “Yeah, bye.”
He couldn’t help it, he knew he sounded ‘off.’ The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why. And because he didn’t know, he felt he couldn’t really talk about it with Ruth – what was there to say? It was his problem, and he didn’t want to push it onto her. She had her own things going on, namely the fact that she would soon be unemployed – again. After a succession of unappealing and unsatisfactory temporary jobs, mostly in big corporate offices, the type of place she hated – so many people, so many awful people, the sort she’d not have given a moment of her time to through choice – she had landed herself a fantastic job on a medieval library archiving project. Only now the project was almost done and the funding had run dry and so her contract was to be terminated in a couple of weeks. Ruth’s unemployment, or otherwise low wages did place a strain on things for them financially. Again, Ben never liked to make an issue of it, because to do so would be unfair. He accepted, and in some ways, thrived on fulfilling his role as the dominant male, the breadwinner. He’d always been ambitious, and while he’d never been certain as to what career he wished to pursue, he’d always been ambitious to earn. A good income, a nice house, a fast car…. It’s what every man wants, and it had always been his dream to live the life, to work hard and to reap the rewards, and to spend those rewards in such a way that everyone who saw him knew it, that he was a successful person.
    But right now he didn’t feel successful, and he was struggling to put his finger on exactly what the root of his niggling discontent was. But he had realised that he was not content, and despite his reasonable income – £42K pa plus car plus mobile phone, etc., was a fair salary, he knew that, although after tax there was little benefit, he felt, to earning £42K over earning £25K. He knew he wasn’t like those he left behind in school, those whose profiles he had read on Friends Reunited….

One Star

 

And if you’re loving my work, please buy a book. This Book is available in print from Clinicality Press and as an e-book through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

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.

 

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