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My Mum’s Blowjob (Tainted Love)

“This is a novel that jokes around with that Home to house difference. It’s a brutal face to farce, and those wooden figures become more and more like ventriloquists’ dummies the more you stare at them. In this house the mother dies; mysteriously killed by others she becomes a suicide. Home is the orphan with the strange grin that knows that such inner anguish finds its innermost wholeness only in its opposite. The dialectic spirit creates such opposites by creating spectral, nerveless doppelgangers, as with Dostoevsky’s double Goliadkin. In this way the mother works more like the author himself, the object of an agonising self-awareness. The age she got to in her life is where Home is right about now.”

Richard Marshall reviews Tainted Love, Stewart Home‘s latest novel.

Stewart Home enters the violence that ancestors release. The novel he constructs — Tainted Love — is a totem animal designed to sit on the head of these ancestors. This is familiar territory for those whose ancestors are represented as watchmen, standing often on top of one another, like strange wooden posts at the entrance to a house. So Home skids you into his house. This is a novel that jokes around with that Home to house difference. It’s a brutal face to farce, and those wooden figures become more and more like ventriloquists’ dummies the more you stare at them. In this house the mother dies; mysteriously killed by others she becomes a suicide. Home is the orphan with the strange grin that knows that such inner anguish finds its innermost wholeness only in its opposite. The dialectic spirit creates such opposites by creating spectral, nerveless doppelgangers, as with Dostoevsky’s double Goliadkin. In this way the mother works more like the author himself, the object of an agonising self-awareness. The age she got to in her life is where Home is right about now. The novel then is the classic doppleganger one, the haunting twin that threatens to supplant you. Home’s familiar inner plurality which was so immediately evident in 69 Things through the use of a wooden dummy is more subtle here, and used with less obvious comic effect, yet again allows the fluid boundary between perverse fantasy and perverse reality to remain undetermined.

Ancestors layer themselves. Home works at his pile using Catherine Deneuve as Severin in Belle De Jour as one of several tricks: the image of a sado-masochistic beauty tethered and lashed in a black and white image is one way he takes a familiar 60s historical posh austere surface and leaves it defiled and, languishing in its corruption, completed. Anna Karina as Nana is another, the mother double becomes the girl who would be an actress in Vivre Sa Vie but ends up as Godard‘s prostitute. Elegant surfaces each, they are broken against soundtracks and mechanics of the sex trade in order to reveal the luminous motifs of the corpse, the crouching figure and the hermaphrodite, Webster?s skull beneath the skin somewhere in a pub near where the Krays and other ponce bullies plied their evil romance. Home knows them all. All this emerges out of the verbal element. Home’s characters are like everybody else, yet only like themselves too; each one also, as Goliadkin says of himself, “A scoundrel, a terrible scoundrel”.

Home builds his ancestor pole using as always limits, constraints, a violence that has nothing to do with ideas. There is no justification and no case for the defence for there is nothing to defend. The first person female voice is something Home likes. He uses it in his previous two novels, 69 Things and Down and Out. This mouth, it is a circle of influence rather than a line. It is a mouth not a voice. The novel can be seen as a tale of the immoral sixties, of the dark underbelly of the hippie time, the London anti-swing. But we are comfortable with Home’s disregard for limits, we expect that, and the torso of the novel is nothing really to do with its glam surface except that it’s that surface that Home is going to rough up and shame. Home is brilliantly using Bakhtin’s description of Dostoevsky’s “small-scale Copernican revolution when he took what had been a firm and finalising authorial definition and turned it into an aspect of the hero’s self-definition,” and then turning it on its head again so that we return to a kind of weird objectified reality once more. We are given a surface. The mouth itself rather than the voice is Home’s revolutionary discovery and has been for some time.

Its surface is glam, albeit a rogue glam. It shines with names we recognise — albeit names that can’t prosecute (Brian Jones not Mick Jagger) — and because of this we don’t need to concentrate on them. There are other works we can read for that, such as Jeremy Reed‘s brilliant book on Jones. The dynamism of the novel is the quality of its anti-hallucination. There is a daft, wonderful discipline to the book, there is nothing in the way of Home just getting brutal. The objects of the novel — these all too, far too familiar names — are left behind by the drive of the plot. Their reality is contested because we know they exist. We are taken outside the normal and what is at issue — a complex issue familiar to anyone who reads Home with the concentration he deserves — are autonomous creations.

Alex Trocchi, for example, a key name in the text, is not a peripheral sign just because there’s already been such a heavy investment in it, one that gets deposited by us way before we know anything about Home, his mum, this. The name has a frisson. But whatever we might like to know, in him Home finds a detour of psychic processes that maims whatever power he might have had. In writing about the relationship between this cult underground icon and the mother, Home ends up as fast as possible with a classical sense of the merely typical. He erodes the extraordinary claims that the name Trocchi has acquired, a name now possessed by myth, and in a conjuring trick gets him into the light as simply a way of creating and underlining standards. Home is aware that in this Mother’s London the obsessions of the story, all things jndeed, have a psychogeographic, mantic origin and a maintained creation in abrupt distance.

And Home keeps everything at a distance, something that can be read at times as a kind of cruelty, a cruelty of his constructive will. Those who find Home troublesome often end up locating their troubles in this. Each of his visions is surrounded by a despised universe, takes account of this universe and then finishes. Feelings are banished. Internal reality is suspended forever and what is left is shown to be indifferent, alienated and a mass of standardised notions, names, things. Like the painter Leger Home doesn’t do the exceptional, doesn’t do the inner demons and its monsters. His is a world of circles (see 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess), safety pins (see Slow Death) and Ford motor cars (eg p. 139 of Tainted Love). This is, as they all are, a distinctly tectonic novel, in that its objects and people are just objects in space, seen very close up, naively maybe, but shorn of lyricism despite such close quarters where you might expect such inner springs. His novel is the literary equivalent of, say, “The Hold House Port Mear Square Island Port Mear Beach,” Alfred Wallis’s great painting.

Take a trip. Take what you like. Notting Hill tube. High Street Ken. Central Line. Mile End. A code bends sinister into filth. Maps and routes are messed up and corrupted. The bent copper “undid his flies and exposed himself to me”. The mother’s always being forced to give head to dirty bastard coppers and Home forces this grim repeating force (as in police force and farce and faeces and fleeced and etc etc etc) as if to denounce the obstinacy of those who want the intellect to sort out the light from the dark. Returning to what I opened with, the violence is unreasonable in that it has no need of justification, reason, thought.

Coupled with the notion of amusement, which is where the novel tries to resist the reduction of abstract ideas to themselves, Home takes us to wonder about our need for amusement which hardly frees us from contempt and the horror of what is ultimately done to the forms of the human body, but is a key motivation in starting to read a novel, any novel, in the first place. This is the high risk strategy of Home’s involvement with writing. What do we make of this need for amusement in the face of the brute tectonic form of the body and of what these evil men do to it? There is a weird and brisk agreement at this point between Home and Bataille who also sees people’s need for amusement as their most terrifying need.

So Home’s mum can be read as Croquignol, Ribouldingue and Filochard, “latter-day descendants of the blood-covered, acidly laughing gods of ancient Mexico” as Conor Joyce puts it (in his incredible book Carl Einstein In Documents and his Collaboration with Georges Bataille). But the blood is her own blood, the wounds are her own wounds and though the strange, driving entertainment of the novel might allow us to see the nymphs, ruins and parrots of a surrealist umbrella represented as a house for rent, we still know what an umbrella looks like. So too with Home’s mum, we know cruelty and badness even when dressed to kill in the names of Lang, Jones, Lennon, Reeves and the rest of the gang Home conjures up here.

There’s something of the extrovert in Home’s writing. It does the opposite of what the Romantics do. It is the use of standardised objects and names — such as Brian Jones who in this guise is a repugnantly violent ex-Stones — standardised by the hundreds of books and articles refining the surfaces of the short banality of the musician’s cretin life that Homes finds a path, adopting the conventions whilst cutting back on the psychic, the internal movement. This hylic approach, opposing the psychic, brings about the cunning strangeness of Home?s style by denying the elementary and supposed immediacy of internal hallucinatory experiences. There is no withdrawn Dionysian rapture possible in this novel; instead there’s an isolated, self-absorbed creativity that allows for a weird kind of ecstasy even within the tectonic limits Home has set for himself. As in the familiar dialectical movement, the Apollonian is not just the opposite of the Dionysian but is also a resolution through development, a kind of (tainted) solution. It comes in a needle in skin and is all in vein.

Which takes us back to where we began, with Home as his mum’s Goliadkinic twin. A kind of order is discovered through the reading of this brilliant novel. The mouth of the mother takes the bent copper’s cock throughout because it is the mouth that is at the beginning of the fleshy being. When Bataille writes about the mouth he describes the quality of Home’s vision. This is ventriloquism of the highest order, for the crafty thing about that particular entertainment (something which Home is currently perfecting in real life) is what you do with your mouth. You give a dummy a voice and hide your own mouth’s movement. You try and keep it looking shut, and still, stum as an act of deception, sleight of hand (hand to mouth stuff this) and magic.

But in this story of terror and dreadful suffering Bataille writes how “a shattered individual lifts its head, frenetically stretching the neck, in such a way that the mouth takes up, as far as possible, a position which is a prolongation of the vertebral column, that is to say, the position it normally occupies in the animal constitution. As if explosive impulses had to spurt directly out of the body through the mouth in the form of vociferations. . . one can also see that someone can free these impulses in at least two different ways, in the brain or in the mouth, but as soon as the impulses become violent, the person is forced to resort to the animal way of freeing them”.

The book ends with the time, date and place of Home’s mother’s death. No detail is secure because no one cared enough to investigate how she died. It is a deadly, incisive and devastating finish, one that relieves the reader of the desire for entertainment, no matter how lurid, resolving it all in the damnation of what Bataille would call a “narrow, constipated . . . strictly human attitude, the magisterial sight of a face, mouth shut tight, beautiful as a safe”. We are reminded of the ventriloquist’s art of deception and ask questions as to its purpose. This is a powerful book, as relevant a piece of writing as we’re likely to have this year and one that contributes to Home’s assault on novelistic limits. Home continues to write texts that are some of the purest testimonies of revolt, and revulsion we have. As Goliadkin ends up responding in a final sentence, “Alas! He had long forseen it”. It’s an essential read, reminding us that ancestors are still piling up behind us, making gibbous faces on the doorsteps of all our houses.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 1st, 2006.