Artwork by Sardax
CUTTING-EDGE LITERARY NEWS FROM AROUND THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
by Andrew Gallix
COPYRIGHT © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
For more March news, click here.
SHANGHAI BABES 03/16/2001
Weihui’s second novel, Shanghai Baby was published in China in 1999. It sold some 100,000 copies before being banned by the authorities who claimed the book was “decadent” and “pornographic”. Shanghai Baby is the tale of a 25-year-old woman torn between the (Chinese) man she loves and the (German) man who knows how to love her. Weihui believes her novel was banned because it showed that Chinese women prefer to sleep with well-endowed foreigners. It has just been published in France along with Mian Mian’s Bonbons chinois which was banned in the wake of Shanghai Baby.
DAVID MARKSON: WHY BOTHER WRITING? 03/16/2001
Keith Gessen has published a very interesting article on David Markson in Feed Magazine: “There is a great irony at the center of all writing--you write because you want to communicate, because you have ideas to express, experiences to relate, meanings to distill. In order to do all this, you gather supplies, lock yourself in a room, and get really angry with your friends if they call you from work.” In Markson’s 1988 novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress, the narrator, Kate, is the last person on earth: “. . . If there is no one to read these pages, why does she bother to write at all? And why, in turn, does Markson? Why--this is the question Markson has been asking with increasing desperation over the past twenty-five years--does anyone?” David Markson’s This is Not a Novel is published this month.
RULAND RULES 03/16/2001
Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Jim Ruland, author of The Stripper in Her Natural Habitat, seems to get everywhere these days. You can find him in McSweeney’s (for the second time) and Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k). He was recently spotted in Linnaen Street and Exquisite Corpse.
TELLING THE TIME 03/14/2001
Adam Phillips in The Guardian describes George Steiner’s new book, Grammars of Creation, as a “riveting guide to language and existence”: “Grammars were once books used to teach grammar. They seem peculiarly old-fashioned now, as literacy itself is soon going to seem, in George Steiner's view, though they were among the first 'how to' books. . . . Even though grammar was itself technical, a discipline in its own right, speaking and writing seem the most natural things in the world. The study of language shows us that we are, paradoxically, utterly law abiding and innovative in our language use. We can only improvise when we have something to improvise with. We are in the process of losing our faith in language, Steiner believes, and that this is just like losing our faith in God, and may be even worse. . . . What Grammars of Creation homes in on, continuing the argument in Real Presences, and that began most vividly in Bluebeard's Castle, is just what it is that sustains our modern confidence in being alive. Our faith that life is a virtue in itself, or even an outright gift is, in Steiner's view, constantly under threat, and never more so than now. What he calls 'the gusto of optimism', our more ambitious hopes for ourselves, are fading. There is, he believes, 'in the climate of spirit at the end of the twentieth century, a core-tiredness'. Though Grammars of Creation is characteristically exhilarated and exhilarating about our cultural achievements in the arts and the sciences--and Steiner is as riveting in this book talking about modern cosmology as he is about Philip Larkin as 'an annotator of common ground'--it reads rather more as a Decline and Fall of the Human Empire. In Grammars of Creation, he puts pressure on us to consider the various nothingnesses we live with. Not only are our individual lives haunted by our forthcoming absence, but every work of art--and art, for Steiner, is at once our grand inquisitor and the best way life has come up with of justifying itself--is 'attended by a two-fold shadow: that of its own possible or preferable inexistence, and that of its disappearance'. The phrase 'two-fold shadow' is worth attending to here because it keeps in focus the very difficulty that Steiner is exploring: the way our ideas of creativity and creation (in the theological sense) are ways of countering and acknowledging the absences, the disappearances we have to live with. Our futures (what might happen) are, in Steiner's sense, as 'inexistent' as our pasts (what might have been). Our erotic lives are made out of what isn't there. 'Love knows of absences more vehement, more expressive of the promise of hope,' Steiner writes, 'than is any presence.' Music transforms silence by including it in its structure. Any work of art, like any individual life, need not have happened, and could always have been different. And it is only in language, through grammar, as Steiner is so keen to impress upon us, that our lives have such tenses available to them. Without language, we can't tell the time. Steiner suggests in this book that our sense of ourselves as creators--and we can only bear ourselves in his view as creators and inventors, a distinction that is at the heart of the book--has quite literally depended upon our assumption of divine or supernatural creation. As though the existence of God (or gods) is the only thing that can make us at all god-like; and if we are not god-like, we are merely 'barbarous', to use one of Steiner's key words. 'Can there, will there be major philosophy, literature, music and art of an atheist provenance?' Steiner asks plaintively at the end of this book.”
JOYCE CAROL OATES 03/14/2001
PerfectBound are publishing Joyce Carol Oates’s collection of short stories, Faithless: Tales of Transgression ($19.95), which, according to the press release, explore “the mysteries and obsessions that vibrate beneath the surface of ordinary, uncelebrated lives. As in much of Oates's most compelling fiction, women deprived of a voice take center stage in many of the stories in Faithless. In "Ugly," a young waitress who sees herself as unattractive toys with the affections of an equally disconnected man. Another woman, spurned in love, takes a chilling
approach to vengeance in "Lover." Two stories, "Questions" and "Summer Sweat" offer very different portraits of academic love affairs, the first tainted by the dark consequences of suicide, the other a study in the emotional erosion of stoic indifference. In the title story, which was selected for inclusion in both The Best American Mystery Stories 1998 and The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses 1998, two sisters recall the unexplained disappearance many years earlier of their disconsolate mother. Another story honored by The Best American Mystery Stories series, "Secret, Silent," tells the almost nightmare-like tale of a young girl's strange encounter with the seamy side of life and her decision to keep it to herself.” The e-book contains an exclusive interview with the author about Bill Clinton, America’s gun culture and her love story with her typewriter. You can download “The High School Sweetheart: A Mystery” free of charge.
WELL RED 03/14/2001
Jodi Kantor has published an interesting article, “The Literary Critic’s Shelf of Shame”, in Slate: “In his novel Changing Places, David Lodge describes a literary parlor game called "Humiliations" in which participants confess, one by one, titles of books they've never read. The genius of the game is that each player gains a point for each fellow player who's read the book—in other words, the more accomplished the reader, the lower his or her score. Lodge's winner is an American professor who, in a rousing display of one-downmanship, finally announces that he's never read Hamlet. What would happen if book critics and literary journalists played a round of Lodge's game? . . . The point of this exercise wasn't to embarrass anyone, of course. In fact, the answers are downright reassuring: book guilt and frustration are universal conditions, and are far more acute among critics than casual readers. The most distressing revelation is that many of the authors deemed most impenetrable—Dickens, Hawthorne, the Brontës, Melville—are mainstays on high-school and college freshman reading lists.”
DENNIS THE MENACE 03/14/2001
Britain’s oldest comic strip hero, “the world’s wildest boy”, Dennis the Menace has turned fifty. The Beano’s most famous character has his own fan club which boasts 1.5 million members!
NEVER TRUST A MAN WITH EGGERS ON HIS FACE 03/13/2001
News of the feud between Dave Eggers (pictured right), author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and New York Times journalist David Kirkpatrick has reached Europe. Peter Conrad of the London Guardian states that this epistolary battle “highlights the love-hate relationship of celebrity and press”: “Dave [Eggers] was wary about meeting in person--you never now what you might catch from personal contact. He agreed to answer questions by email, and David [Kirkpatrick] handsomely offered the chance to approve quotes before publication. But by the time the article appeared in mid-February, Dave had decamped from New York to New Zealand. The international dateline, like the hostile astrological signs in Romeo and Juliet, meant he didn't see the proof until too late; just how star-crossed can two buddies be? David's piece was a dull, bland combination of puffery and anodyne tittle-tattle. It could hardly have been anything else, since its instigator was Dave's publisher. The errors were negligible (David got the name of a New Jersey town wrong). Nevertheless, Dave reviled David for hypocrisy and malice, and paid him back by publishing their correspondence--complete with the New York Times man's spelling mistakes. . . . Laughably trivial as it is, the hissy fit raises larger issues about journalistic procedures and the hoity-toity privileges of celebrity. . . .
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a non-fiction novel, regaled readers with a mordant account of the deaths of Dave's parents. He now zealously prizes his privacy and will only be interviewed by email. But he thought nothing of publishing the phone numbers of friends who were conscripted as characters in his book. (As it happened, the friends weren't besieged by crank callers; readers assumed the numbers were false.) Dave's chastening of David is not about ethics at all, since morally they're on a par. It's about the supposedly superior rights of the celebrity. Dave's fame exempts him from the customary moral laws, and from emotional qualms that we might otherwise feel about his behaviour. His book turns his family tragedy into a soap opera. Now his angry pedantry about David's inaccuracy is an episode from a sitcom (think of Frasier on the rampage over a lapse of etiquette). . . . Nevertheless, in spurning David, Dave has committed an act of hubris. The celebrity is a personality marketed for popular consumption. Dave happens to be a fine writer, but the publicity campaign for the paperback treated him like any other commodity, a product to be exchanged for cash. David, coaxed to write the profile by Dave's publicist, was essential to the selling strategy. This is where Dave's arrogant error comes in. Celebrities are invented by the hacks who celebrate them, and they exist only so long as those cheerleaders maintain public interest in their carryings-on.” For Dave Eggers’ side of the quarrel go to his excellent webzine, McSweeneys. The film rights to his bestselling A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius have just been sold to New Line Cinema for the proverbial “undisclosed sum.”
NEAL POLLACK 03/13/2001
Another McSweeney’s author, Neal Pollack, is in the news. His The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature is reviewed by Jack Shafer in this week’s New York Times: “There is a thin line between good writing and bad writing, and Neal Pollack erases it forever with The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, his flippant sendup of the literary elite. The proudly callow Neal Pollack of the byline, a 30-something who was most recently a writer at The Chicago Reader, has imagined the entire corpus of a name-dropping, self-aggrandizing, oversexed litterateur, also named Neal Pollack. ''When I'm on assignment in, say, Turkey . . . the women of Istanbul are launching themselves at me like rockets,'' Pollack writes. ''Salinger, as you know, was once a great writer like myself,'' he says elsewhere. This fictional Pollack--a graduate of Exeter and Harvard, now in his 70's--considers himself the greatest magazine journalist, novelist and poet in the history of American letters, not to mention a helluva radio producer. He collects Pulitzers, Bookers and National Book Awards the way furniture collects dust. The anthology's 24 short ''excerpts'' from seven decades of the fictional Pollack's journalism serve to parody the genre of literary journalism, and the joke proves surprisingly durable given its narrow premise. At first glance, Pollack's model seems to be Gore Vidal. . . . This collection takes an efficient swipe at white liberal writers who cruise the projects looking for story subjects in ''I Am Friends With a Working-Class Black Woman'' and Hemingway pretenders in ''Portrait of an Andalusian Horse Trainer'': ''The colt loomed monstrously in front of a swirling wall of rain clouds. He was El Caballo de Sangre, The Horse of Blood, the death horse.'' (The book's sly ''Publishing Notes'' claim that the piece originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post as ''I Get a Kick Out of You, Spain.'') . . . If I read the young Pollack right, he means more than to cripple hacks with the mace of parody. Like Dave Eggers and the other literary monkey-wrenchers at McSweeney's Quarterly, where some of these pieces first appeared and which published this book, Pollack longs to make literary noise of his own. But first he must vanquish the practitioners of a school of journalism that substitutes a dilettante's superficial experience for genuine reporting. Or maybe Pollack just wants to have fun drawing silly mustaches on famous writers. Alas, the art of silly-mustache drawing . . . is a minimalist one.”
In London’s Evening Standard, Melanie McGrath reviews Paul Joannides’s Guide to Getting it On! : “Sex manuals are generally written for women. This is not because women are--as a rule--crap at sex. It's because men are--as a rule--under the illusion that they are bedroom gods and no one can teach them anything. Clearly (girls, help me out here) this is not the case.
. . . [T]he Guide is all about giving the reader permission. Permission to explore, communicate the results, then go back for more. Or not, as the case may be. Permission both to get it right and to cock it up. And how much we in our perfectionist, size-eight, Viagra'd, multi-orgasmic, Cosmo-fied world need to hear that. Girls, boys, you can eff up the effing once in a while and the world will continue to turn. Oh joy! Oh liberation! . . . The illustrations are frankly sickening, only serving to confirm that the female genitalia look like a mussel dinner and the male member is actually a large (if you're lucky) toadstool. While we're on the subject of illustrations, it might be a good idea to point out there are no beards on either sex, which is progress, but that all the men look like Michael Bolton, which is not, and that one still has his socks on which is plain unforgivable.”
MOSHE BENARROCH 03/13/2001
Moshe Benarroch was born in Morocco. His mother tongue is Spanish. He attended a French school. He lives in Jerusalem. His poems have been published in Hebrew, English, Spanish, french and Chinese! Mr Benarroch, who has been described as “the raging bull of Israeli literature”, invites you to join his newsletter. Each month, he will send you one of his poems in English and also in Spanish if there’s any demand. If you want more, Mosche Benarroch has published two collections of poems in English: You Walk on the Land Until One Day the Land Walks on You and Horses and Other Doubts.
I AM A CAMERA 03/12/2001
The Saatchi Gallery in London has been visited by police officers after complaints were made regarding photographs by Tierney Gearon showing the American photographer’s own children. The publisher of the magazine Index on Censorship, Henderson Mullin, told the BBC that this was “a tabloid-led witch hunt.” On Sunday, the finest exponent of the British gutter press, The News of the World had indeed described the I Am A Camera exhibition as “a revolting exhibition of perversion under the guise of art” and called for its closure.
TEXTUAL HARASSMENT 03/12/2001
An interesting biography of Henry Spencer Ashbee by Ian Gibson was recently published in Britain. The Erotomaniac tells the story of a Victorian textile magnate and family man who led a secret life as an erotic bibliographer, bibliophile (he left thousands of erotic books to the British Library when he died in 1900) and probably novelist (Gibson argues convincingly that Ashbee is the author of My Secret Life).
Alison Hennegan, who used to be the literary editor of Gay News and teaches at the University of Cambridge, has published The Lesbian Pillow Book. The Guardian has published her top 10 lesbian books.
SANTA FE LITOPIA 03/12/2001
In an exciting and long-awaited development, the Santa Fe Writers Project and Litopia, Ltd. have struck a formal partnership that richly expands SFWP’s services and potential. A London-based literary agency with offices in New York, Litopia will serve as the official literary agency to SFWP, offering formal market evaluation to each of SFWP’s top four winners. Litopia reserves the right to sign winning authors to agency contracts on the basis of its independent evaluation, but will offer three mentoring sessions to each winner—even if Litopia does not elect to formally represent the author. SFWP Advisory Board Chairman Richard Currey and Litopia’s Managing Director Peter Cox (see picture) reached an agreement earlier this month in New York, formally linking the two organizations. Litopia will serve SFWP in an advisory capacity as well as participating in the awards program, and Peter Cox said that he can “see nothing but good coming out of the Santa Fe Writers Project.”
BEN JONSON 03/12/2001
I recently stumbled upon a very interesting site devoted to Ben Jonson.
SOHO STRUT 03/12/2001
A new Mod site has just been launched and, even though it’s still heavily under construction, Sohostrut (named after a song by Secret Affair) looks very promising indeed. There will be features on the swinging Sixties, scooters, football and Mod revivalist bands like Secret Affair or The Chords. They also seem to be quite open-minded: the background music comes courtesy of Punk band The X-Ray Spex.
Poptones, the Internet-based label launched by former Creation Records supremo Alan McGee, is releasing new albums by January, Captain Soul, Gnac and a mini-album by “disco-rock sleaze vixens” the Ping Pong Bitches (pictured right). Several singles are also coming out including a debut by the “god-like” Pablo who are also described as “possibly the loudest band in London.” The Cosmic Rough Riders are currently on tour in Texas and Poptones’ Radio4 club (every Wednesday at Notting Hill Arts Club, 21 Notting Hill Gate London W11 from 6 pm to 1 am) will soon be travelling to the US of A. Don’t be there, be square!
BECKETT ON THE TELLY 03/11/2001
In the Buzzwords entry for 01/30/2001, we told you that Samuel Beckett’s 19 plays were being filmed for TV. The project, which has now been completed, is a collaboration between Channel 4, RTE (the Irish state-funded TV channel), the Irish Film Board and Blue Angel Films. The Beckett films will start showing on RTE next Sunday. They will be broadcast in Britain in June.
BLASTED KANE 03/11/2001
The Royal Court Theatre in London will be hosting a Sarah Kane season which will run from March 29 to June 6. The season includes performances of Blasted which was first performad at the Royal Court in 1995 (March 29-June 9), Crave (May 8-June 9) and 4.48 Psychosis (May 5-June 9) as well as readings of Phaedra’s Love ("It's not a theatre critic that's required here: it's a psychiatrist.," a Daily Telegraph critic wrote when it was first produced) and Cleansed. You will find more info about this English playwright who committed suicide in 1999 here and here.
LAURENCE STERNE 03/11/2001
A biography of Laurence Sterne, author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, has been published by Ian Campbell Ross. Here is an extract from John Carey’s review in The Sunday Times: “What Laurence Sterne needed more than anything was a literary agent. Unluckily, there were no such beings in the 18th century. When the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy came out they took London by storm. Imitations, parodies and burlesques flooded the market. A new dance, a new card-game and a new soup took their names from Sterne's novel, and a racehorse called Tristram Shandy was painted by George Stubbs. Today, Sterne would have negotiated an astronomic advance for his next book and retired to the south of France. Instead, he spent eight years miserably penning sequels, each more sourly received than the last, and died in penury in 1768. Buried in an unmarked grave, his remains were dug up by body-snatchers and sold for dissection. Nietzsche called Sterne "the most liberated spirit of all time". But Ian Campbell Ross's richly detailed biography leaves you feeling, rather, how obediently he conformed to the practices of his day. He went into the church, not from any spiritual calling, but because it provided a safe livelihood. A leg-up from a wealthy relative secured him two parishes in rural Yorkshire. Once installed, he neglected his clerical duties, paying starvation wages to an ill-qualified curate while he pursued his own interests. The son of a poor but well-born army officer, he preened himself on his gentility, and chose a woman from a good county family as his wife. It was a bad mistake. Whatever affection there had been was soon spent, and Sterne's infidelities became notorious. To escape bitter marital quarrels he would slip away to York, where his man would procure "a girl or two" for the night. He was continually after the female servants. His wife once caught him in bed with the maid, and the shock brought on a fit of insanity during which she imagined herself the Queen of Bohemia. Despite these recreations, Sterne had no qualms about denouncing "impure desire" from the pulpit. A Justice of the Peace, he sat in judgment in the local ecclesiastical court, where he handed down punishments and penances for adultery and fornication to the bewildered peasantry. . . . Few novels have bestowed such immediate fame on their creator as Tristram Shandy did on Laurence Sterne. Published in York at the end of 1759, the novel was taken up by actor David Garrick early in 1760. Tempted down to London in March, Sterne was dining with the cream of society within days of his arrival; later that month he sat for a Joshua Reynolds portrait, and in April he was was presented at court. . . . It [Tristram Shandy] exposes the absurdity of believing in rational discourse and voluntary actions. Accident and misunderstanding control the world. It is that, and the courage to laugh at it, that justify the book's daring technical innovations and make it the first modern, or post- modern, novel. Milan Kundera said Sterne taught the world to see the novel as a "great game". But his scrupulous attention to life's smallest movements, along with his honesty in recognising its ultimate futility, amount to something darker and grander than a game.”
The paperback of Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised has just been published in Britain (the American title is The Elementary Particles), and The Evening Standardhas made it its paperback of the week: “The most memorable author-interview of last year was with Michel Houellebecq, the French sensation who now dwells near Dublin. He invited the interviewer to be in his erotic film; asked her to wear a see-through skirt; boasted of how many women he slept with each year; then passed out from drink, his head in a plate. Houellebecq had a slightly unusual formation for a successful French novelist. His parents were hippies who packed him off to grandparents when he was a small boy. He no longer knows whether his parents are dead or alive, he says. His degree was in agricultural engineering. He spent some time in and out of mental hospitals before beginning to write. Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires) is his second novel. It's astounding: cynical, offensive, lubricious, but also revelatory. It tells the story of two half-brothers, born in the late Fifties. They follow their different courses--one through hedonism, the other no more successfully through puritanism and science-- towards terminal unhappiness. Their lives turn out to have been emptied of meaning by the liberations of the Sixties.” You can read an excerpt in Boldtype or download an MP3 and listen to the author himself.
DAVID MITCHELL 03/10/2001
The author of Ghostwritten, David Mitchell, has just published his second novel, entitled number9dream. Here is an extract from The Guardian review: “Eiji Miyake is a 20-year-old Japanese student, newly arrived in Tokyo to search for his missing father. Absent fathers are traditional bait for metaphysical quests, and Eiji's real quest, it turns out, is to come to terms with a tragedy buried in the past; intercut throughout the novel are idyllic scenes from his childhood. Eiji rents a capsule room above a video shop, falls in love with a pianist's perfect neck, and gets mixed up in the deliciously creative violence of Yakuza turf wars. Alternating the modes of sadistic action movie, detective story, cyberpunk thriller and gentle romance, the external action of the novel is always engaging. But such is Mitchell's beautifully precise style that he can make inaction just as pleasurable, as Eiji lies alone on his bed, smoking cigarettes and watching the neon clock across the street count down the hours until dawn. The prose bespeaks a kind of observational rapture that offers the smell of Tokyo streets or even the movements of a cockroach as tiny, cherishable shards.”
CAFE SOCIETY 03/10/2001
I have just found out that the Café de Flore, one of the most famous literary cafés in the world (located in Saint-Germain, Paris), has its own website. If you understand French, check out the potted history of Le Flore from the birth of Surrealism (this is where Aragon introduced Philippe Soupault to André Breton) to the twenty-first century. There is also a page dedicated to Le Prix de Flore, the literary prize launched by the prestigious café in 1994.
THE SADNESS THAT GOES WITH THAT 03/10/2001
The Scotsman has published an interview with Jonathan Coe (by Julie Wheelwright: “Now nearing 40, Coe has written The Rotters’ Club, a deliciously complicated novel peopled with characters whose lives are rocked by those political changes. A group of Brummie schoolboys and schoolgirls are gradually caught up in the charged force behind punk rock, the second wave of feminism and the nihilistic backlash that youth culture embraced during the Eighties. The graduates of Coe’s fictional school, King William’s, who are raised to believe they are ‘the creme de la creme of Birmingham intelligentsia’ must also negotiate their parents’ fading socialist ideals, marital discord and disillusionments. ‘It’s not that idealism fades,’ croaks Coe, nursing a paper cup of bottled water in a West London cafe to keep his flu at bay, ‘but it becomes absorbed and recedes into the background while you’re bringing up your kids or earning a living or whatever. I’m trying to capture the sadness that goes with that.’ . . . The novel is what Coe calls a ‘duology’, the first of a two-volume project which follows the characters from their schooldays in the Seventies through to the Millennium, and readers must wait to find out how all the loose threads are tied up. ‘The distant origin of The Rotters’ Club was that I wanted to write a six-volume novel sequence taking you through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and up to 2000,’ he says. ‘But I felt there was so much about the Eighties in What a Carve Up! and so much about the Nineties in The House of Sleep that it wasn’t a period of British life that I wanted to revisit. It seemed much more interesting to me to knock out the four volumes in the middle.’ So Coe’s next novel, The Closed Circle, will resume with the lives of his characters in early middle age, and ‘you’re left guessing all the way through the second novel about what happened to them in between’. He admits it is an experiment that might not work. ‘It could backfire disastrously if no-one takes to this novel and three years down the line, I publish another one and find that no-one’s been involved enough with the characters that they can bother to wait.’ Perhaps Coe’s experiments with narrative and with form led him to his current project, a biography of the Sixties novelist BS Johnson, which will be published next year. ‘He was one of the finest prose writers that Britain has ever produced,’ he says. ‘He took himself and his work very, very seriously, which made him enemies.’
The Scotsman has also published a review of Coe’s new novel by Tom Lappin: “This [the 1970s] is a period that we find difficult to see clearly for the swathes of rear-view propaganda that have enshrined Grunwick, British Leyland, Red Robbo, and the "Winter Of Discontent" in a black fog of revisionism. In many circles (especially the government) it is now taken as read that this was a dreary Britain with a Warsaw-pact mentality and unions shackling the country, waiting for angelic Margaret to free it. Coe takes a closer, more humane look. It’s a perverse master-stroke to set most of the novel in one of those bastions of privilege and stupid ritual, a boys’ grammar school, and moreover, one in Birmingham, a city on the frontline of most of Britain’s late 1970s conflicts. . . . In heavier hands, the material could have turned into a humourless polemic. Coe, though, is a gentler satirist, a writer who cheerfully indulges our taste for the absurdities of 1970s detail. This is a world where a man who has mushrooms with his steak and chips is regarded as a soigné sophisticate, Black Forest gateau rules the sweet trolley, and no cup of tea is allowed to escape unsugared.”
On 23 February, Jonathan Coe answered readers’ questions online. He speaks about music, films, writing, B.S. Johnson and the Internet: “I only skim the surface of the internet--I probably use about 0.0001% of its resources--a lot of literary sites, and so on, and online newspapers, but email is a terrible new distraction. I spend at least 2 hours a day emailing people when I should be working.” Let’s hope 3AM Magazine will be one of the literary sites Mr Coe visits one day.
ESSEX GIRLS 03/08/2001
The author of The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer, has published an article on Essex girls in The Guardian: “The Essex girl is becoming more difficult to spot these days. She used to be conspicuous, as she clacked along the pavements in her white plastic stilettos, her bare legs mottled patriotic red, white and blue with cold, and her big bottom barely covered by her denim miniskirt. Essex girls usually come in twos, both behind pushchairs with large infants in them. Sometimes you hear them before you see them, cackling shrilly or yelling to each other from one end of the street to the other, or berating those infants in blood-curdling fashion. Occasionally they are accompanied by the hangdog sire of their child, more often by a mother, who is simply a 16 or 17 years older version of themselves. All parties bar the infants will have a cigarette going. The Essex girl is tough, loud, vulgar and unashamed. Her hair is badly dyed not because she can't afford a hairdresser, but because she wants it to look brassy. Nobody makes her wear her ankle chain; she likes the message it sends. Nobody laughs harder at an Essex girl joke than she does: she is not ashamed to admit what she puts behind her ears to make her more attractive is her ankles. She is anarchy on stilts; when she and her mates descend upon Southend for a rave, even the bouncers grow pale. Her existence and her style make nonsense of the Labour rhetoric about "social exclusion". She does not see herself as outside society; she sees herself as belonging to the real world of family loyalty, sexual unpredictability, underemployment and petty crime, and the Blairs as pious, condescending and self-deluding. I think she's great. . . . Historic precedents for the 21st-century phenomenon of the Essex girl can be found in ballad literature, workhouse records and crime pamphlets, which abound with foul-mouthed molls and bludgets. Essex was always noted for its ducking stools and scolds' bridles, and for "witches", which is just another name for uncontrollable women.”
ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 03/08/2001
The winter/spring issue of Failbetter is now online. It contains, among many other things, an interview with Donald Antrim. Pif, one of the litzine heavyweights, has just released its March issue. The ever-excellent Critique has published a profile of Alberto Moravia by Gaither Stewart. The third issue of Jack is one of the best reads on the Internet right now with beautiful collages by Paul Grillo and an in-depth Gregory Corso tribute. Here is an extract from Mary Sands’ tribute: “ Going to LA today, back to Irvine, all corporate buildings. Ties. Shoe shines. Fashion Island. Terminal preppies on the 405. Cell phone nightmares. All going to make a buck—shopping lists and business solutions. I see them in the elevators, see them storming the palms. This is the life of a "prefeshunnal writer". I know. God, get me home to that Brubeck, to that Rolling Rock, to that Take Five over the ocean. Get me back to the Big Bridge, to Jack. I don't care I don't get paid. Get me the fuck out of Irvine, California!”
CELLULOID ANTI-NATURALS 03/08/2001
On March 3, Right Now! (directed by Scott Foust) and The Terrible Comet Salt (directed by Timothy Shortell), two films made by The Anti-Naturals were shown at the K-Raa-K festival in Belgium. Still from Right Now!.
I CAN FLY 03/08/2001
We’ve never provided a link to a specific short story before, but we enjoyed Mark Davison’s “I Can Fly” so much that we’d like everybody to read it. Mark is a 30 year-old English author who likes The Who, Bukowski, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Dickens and, of course, A.A. Milne: “I have written since I was about twenty-three, but older when I first wrote something worth reading. At the moment I am working on my first novel, which is about 70% finished and is about some pleasant people who live in a small town in England. My novel doesn't have a title yet or a publisher. I can't really think of anything more to tell you about it. I'm not being difficult, I'm just naturally vague. If I had to write a blurb for the back I'd be really stuck.” Picture by Jean-Michel Folon.
THE GREAT 3AM MAGAZINE DISASTER 03/07/2001
Last week, my computer exploded and I lost all our submissions (some of them dating back to November) and several interviews! If you submitted anything to 3AM Magazine and never heard back, chances are it’s lost in cyberspace, so please, please re-submit. The show, however, goes on and we’ve got lots of excellent fiction, articles and interviews lined up including an article by Lionel Rolfe, author of Death and Redemption in London & L.A., Part Two of Cliff Montgomery’s groundbreaking New Cold War, an interview with Tim Parks one of the best British authors around, Vincent Abbate’s Musik Sans Frontières and fiction by the likes of Jim Martin and Kimberly Nichols (see picture). Don’t forget to take part in our 3AM competition.
SO MUCH TO ANSWER FOR 03/07/2001
Michael Winterbottom is shooting a film, 24-Hour Party People, about the Manchester music scene from the punk days of The Buzzcocks to the so-called Madchester scene of the late 80s when indie kids learned to dance to the sound of The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses through post-punk legends Joy Division. BBC Radio 2 is broadcasting a 6-part series devoted to the Manchester scene. The first programme (February 15) was focused on the fertile Mancunian Punk movement, the third (March 1) concerned the seminal label Factory Records and the fifth (March 15) will be devoted to the Madchester scene. Manchester, so much to answer for.
JONATHAN LETHEM 03/06/2001
The author of Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem, has published an article entitled “Defending The Searchers” in both Bloomsbury Magazine and Tin House Magazine. It’s all about John Ford’s film starring John Wayne: “There shouldn't have been anything at stake for me, seeing The Searchers that first time. Yet there was. Going to a Film Society screening was ordinarily a social act, but I made sure to go alone that night. I smoked a joint alone too, my usual preparation then for a Significant Moment. And I chose my heavy black-rimmed glasses, the ones I wore when I wanted to appear nerdishly remote and intense, as though to decorate my outer self with a confession of inner reality. The evening of that first viewing of The Searchers I readied myself like a man who suspects his first date might become an elopement.”
Jonathan Lethem’s new book, This Shape We’re In was recently published by McSweeney’s Books.
FABULOUS YOB 03/06/2001
If you’re a regular 3AM Magazine reader, you’ll know that Jim, our webmaster, is also a talented short story writer. What you may not know is that he’s also singer/bass player with The Fabulous Yobs. Here’s what Jim was listening to at work today:
- Confused Youth by Anti-Flag
- Shaking the Nun by Black Kali Ma
- Psycho by Buzzkill
- Geological Lust by The Causey Way
- Infidel Zombie by the Dickies
- Drive By Shooting by the Henry Rollins Band
- Burn Like Brilliant Trash by the Machines of Loving Grace
- Inheritance by Minion (guys I went to high school with)
- We Are 138 by the Misfits and Henry Rollins
- Un-United Kingdom by Pitchshifter
- I Know You by Henry Rollins and Nine Inch Nails
SHAKESPEARE’S DRUG HABIT 03/06/2001
On March 2, The Guardian asked “Was the Bard a cocaine user?” Apparently, researchers “analysing fragments of pipes in the collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, found traces of cocaine, cannabis and a hallucinogen derived from nutmeg.”
JAYNE ANNE PHILLIPS 03/06/2001
The paperback edition of Jayne Anne Phillips’s MotherKind will be available in the US on March 13. The British edition is scheduled for September. Jayne Anne Phillips, born in Virginia, published her first book in 1979 at the tender age of 26. Black Tickets, a collection of short stories, won the prestigious Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Black Tickets was praised by the likes of Raymond Carver and Nadine Gordimer (who said that Phillips was “the best short story writer since Eudora Welty”). Jayne Anne Phillips’s first novel, a family saga entitled Machine Dreams, was published in 1984. It was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and chosen by the New York Times Book Review as one of twelve BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR. Her next book, Fast Lanes (1987), was another collection of short stories. It is being re-issued by Vintage in April (with three previously uncollected stories). Shelter (1994) was awarded an Academy Award in Literature by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and chosen as one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Jayne Anne Phillips is the final judge for the Santa Fe Writers Project’s 2001 Literary Awards Program. You can read an extract from MotherKind on their site.
ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 03/05/2001
There are many new, newish or forthcoming literary zines around at the moment. Shotgun Confessional from Chicago intends to serve as “a starting point for unpublished writers.” New York-based Eleven Bulls think “There are many journals out there. Why send the fruit of sweat, tears, and angst to us? Well, unlike the 43,000 (widely unread) journals out there, we think you're special, and we're interested in what you think.” The Ultimate Hallucination is an endearing publication that includes the ubiquitous Jason Gurley. A new quarterly webzine called Tyro’s Pen will be launched on September 1. It will “publish those who are not afraid to show their own original style and think up something new and creative.” Check out their call for submissions. Prose Axe is looking (and sounding) more impressive than ever. I believe they’re looking for submissions just like Disquieting Muses, another established figure on the Internet writing scene, and Sighs and Whispers, a spanking new ezine dedicated to “artfully crafted erotic tales.” The Bickerstaff Press, “an independent publisher of serious fiction and nonfiction,” will start publishing an online review in June 2001 and books towards the end of the year. The Complete Review is an extraordinary site which includes almost 600 book reviews. John Walston, who was once assistant managing editor of USA Today, has launched BuzzWhack which is “dedicated to demystifying buzzwords.”
SPAIN IN THE ARSE 03/04/2001
You’ve probably heard of the US publishing industry’s latest sensation: a 9-year-old poet called (wait for it) Sahara Sunday Spain. Her mother is a famous photographer, her father an ex-Black Panther and her soppy, Walt Disney-meets-political correctness poems a load of crap. Nuff said.
HAY FESTIVAL 03/04/2001
The Hay Festival, which is often described as the best literary festival in the world, attracts some 50,000 visitors each year to the tiny market town of Hay-on-Wye (Wales, UK). The 14th festival will take place from May 25-June 3 and will include Booker prize winner Margaret Atwood, Louis de Bernières (whose Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has just been turned into a film), Jeanette Winterson and Nick Hornby.
BELGIAN LITERATURE 03/04/2001
The following site provides you with a list of the most famous Belgian authors writing in French from Georges Simenon and Henri Michaux to Jean-Philippe Toussaint
LE DIVE THEATRE 03/04/2001
If you’re in Paris on April 1 and 2, check out Le Dive Théâtre’s latest production, an “oulipopérette” entitled Carmen et Luis chez Offenbach & Co, directed by Marc Goldberg and starring Alexandra Poulain and Michel Gallet. The venue is the Théâtre du Tambour Royal: 94 rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75011 Paris (nearest metro station: Goncourt). For more info call: 01 48 06 72 34.
KIRSTY MacCOLL 03/03/2001
On March 3, BBC 2 broadcast a tribute to singer Kirsty MacColl which included contributions from Billy Bragg and Johnny Marr. Kirsty MacColl (1959-2000) died in an accident in Mexico last year. You can listen to Radio 2’s tribute here.
JESUS & HIS CHINA PLATES 03/03/2001
The BBC reports that Mike Coles, who has taught religious education in the East End of London for 15 years, will soon publish a version of The Bible in cockney rhyming slang: “The new interpretation of nine stories from the Old Testament and Mark's Gospel, to be published in May, finds Jesus walking on ‘fisherman's daughter’ (water), breaking ‘Uncle Ned’ (bread) and turning water into a glass of ‘rise and shine’ (wine).” Mike Coles “began re-writing the stories after pupils were amused by his references to Jesus as a ‘geezer’, and his friends as ‘china plates’ (mates). Mr Coles hopes the ‘Captain Hook’ (book), featuring a foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, will encourage children to take more of an interest in the bible and the message behind it. It might even persuade ‘saucepan lids’ (kids) to spend more time reading and less time in front of the ‘custard and jelly’ (telly).” Coles added that he had “drawn the line at changing Jesus Christ to ‘cheese and rice’, after deciding there was ‘a need for a bit of respect.’”
DOUGLAS COUPLAND: EARLY BIRDS & NIGHT OWLS 03/03/2001
The editor of January Magazine, Linda Richards, has interviewed Canadian author Douglas Coupland. Coupland speaks about his new book on Vancouver, his desire to do a 6-month house swap with a Londoner (“I love London! It’s the only city--other than Vancouver--I’d like to live”) and, of course, writing: “There's a discipline involved. You can't do it whenever the spirit just moves you, I mean you have to set aside X number of hours at a certain time every single day. Weekends included. Otherwise it's not going to happen. And I've also noticed, just in passing, that writers are either early birds or night owls. Again, I don't think I've ever met anyone who writes at three in the afternoon. And I'm a night owl. I think 75 per cent of writers are early birds, because there's that sort of freshness you get in the morning before the phone calls and the newspaper.” Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Generation X (X as Coupland calls it) by checking out The Coupland File as well as the author’s own, very impressive website.
THE INTELLECTUALS & THE MASSES REVISITED 03/03/2001
This month’s London Review of Books essay, written by James Wood, is about John Carey’s new book, Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books: “John Carey's new book, like his last one, The Intellectuals and the Masses, is a little swizzle-stick perfectly designed for flattening airy literary bubbles. . . . The Intellectuals and the Masses was the most lucid and intelligent statement yet of an English conservative anti-Modernism familiar to readers of the Sunday Times and the Spectator. . . . Picasso was a pig; Edmund Gosse was "a bore"; DH Lawrence hit Frieda and wanted to exterminate whole races; Virginia Woolf was a pretentious snob who said horrible things about the plebeian Joyce, and about the girls who worked at Woolworths; James Kelman acted like a barbarian at the Booker dinner, and so on. . . . Most of these commentators imagine themselves to be writing a form of intellectual history when they are only pouring gossip into fancy goblets at London book parties. . . . That art demands a scandalous selfishness, and a selfishness which paradoxically isolates the writer from the much less selfish world that is his or her subject, that most serious artists do not live orderly lives, do not merely chew the cud of convention, and are given to not very nice statements, seems to be a surprise only to these commentators. Even the beloved Chekhov, we now know, talked occasionally about 'Yids', and serially trifled with the affections of female admirers. . . . Of course, Modernism is in some ways a false quarry, since it hardly invented the monstrosity of the will-to-greatness, or the artist's certainty of superiority. Balzac, in Cousin Bette, distinguishes Wenceslas Steinbock, the talented demi-artist, from the real thing in a marvellous passage which also plentifully insults the masses, whom Balzac calls 'blockheads'. The demi-artists, he says, "appear superior to real artists, who are taxed with aloofness, unsociability, rebellion against the conventions and civilised living; because great men belong to their creations. The entire detachment from all worldly concerns of true artists, and their devotion to their work, stamp them as egoists in the eyes of fools, who think that such men ought to go dressed like men about town performing the gyration that they call 'their social duties'. People would like to see the lions of Atlas combed and scented like a marchioness's lapdogs. Such men, who have few peers and rarely meet them, grow accustomed to shutting out the world, in their habit of solitude. They become incomprehensible to the majority, which, as we know, is composed of blockheads, the envious, ignoramuses, and skaters upon the surfaces of life." This was written in 1846 or 1847, and exceeds any late romantic hauteur expressed by Virginia Woolf. It also decouples Carey's connection between artistic disdain of the populace and an obscurity of style that must then exclude that populace. Still, to be fair, if we take Flaubert as the first Modernist, some kind of revolution seems to have occurred in the writer's relation to his reading public, and a new fear and hatred of the massed bourgeoisie arisen. Modern writers became much more likely to deliver themselves of blasphemies, misanthropic asides, snobberies of various kinds. . . . It was not simply a matter of deciding that the masses were horrible and then devising an art that would exclude them. Doesn't the example of Madame Bovary suggest, to the contrary, that Modernism's anxiety had to do with a recognition that the masses were now an inevitable component of modern art, that art would have to depict them and then be read and judged by them? Diderot had not had to worry about 'a reading public', because it did not exist; but for whom was Flaubert writing Madame Bovary? Was it not for the very people who would condemn it? The 'blockheads'? Carey's terms, quite apart from their simplicity, assume that modern art had nothing to fear from a new mass reading public, that it was always a matter of the unpleasant Modernists ganging up on the suburban clerks, rather than the other way round.”
GO ZAPATISTAS 03/03/2001
You can find several extracts from Subcomandante Marco’s book, Our Word is Our Weapon in The Guardian.
Two articles on the Zapatistas. In Feed, Julie Doherty writes about The Zapatistas’ Parade: “In 1994, Mexico's Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Naciónal (EZLN) commanded international attention by seizing the government buildings in Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, and San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Their forward-thinking political agenda, as well as their Internet-savvy and postmodern self-awareness, appealed to the international community and brought the struggles of Mexico's indigenous communities to the forefront of the world's consciousness. Since the dissolution of peace talks in 1996, press coverage of the EZLN has slowly diminished. Tight military occupation in the eastern regions of the state contained the rebel army in the remote Lacandón jungle, preventing the flow of information from the Zapatistas to the press and depriving the adoring public of witty quips by EZLN leader and media darling, Subcomandante Marcos. . . . Last Saturday, the EZLN marched into San Cristóbal de las Casas again, this time unarmed. The tiny mountain town was flooded with television cameras, tourists, human rights activists, and journalists, illustrating once again that nothing captures the romantic imagination like a revolutionary army. San Cristóbal hosted the inaugural event of the Marcha Zapatista, the first major EZLN mobilization since the San Andres Accords. Over the course of the next two weeks, a caravan of twenty-three unarmed comandantes and one subcomandante will be making a slow journey from the Lacandón jungle to the capital city, where they will reinitiate peace talks with the Mexican Congress. En route, they are stopping to speak in numerous prominent cities, as well as to participate in the National Indigenous Congress in Moreles. . . . [S]afety has become a primary concern for the EZLN delegates, considering the prominent anti-Zapatista sentiments in Mexico and current assassination threats against Subcomandante Marcos. A few days before the march was due to commence, the International Red Cross, which was expected to accompany the Zapatistas on their national tour, announced that they would not ride with the EZLN. Subcomandante Marcos has publicly blamed [the new Mexican president] Vincente Fox for the Red Cross's rejection of the Zapatistas' request for protection. . . . Since 1994, the EZLN fostered a strong base of national and international support through an appealing and modern political platform, an Internet campaign, and press-friendly, charismatic leadership. The Marcha Zapatista is not just a march for peace, but a march for press.”
In Village Voice, Joshua Clover writes that “Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Zapatista spokesmodel, is a folksily articulate charmer, a romantic and rocker peeking out of a politico's getup; he delights coyly in everyone's delusion that he is a leader of peoples, even as he sells that fantasy without pause. Of course, that description might equally sell Bill Clinton, whose globalization crusade helped call Marcos into being. But Marcos himself is an antipolitician. And it's almost impossible to conceive the scope of his culture stardom south of the border. In 1995, tens of thousands of indigenous peasants marched to the mountain town of San Andres Larrainzar, some of them across hundreds of kilometers: to show solidarity, to confront the Mexico City suits with their existence, and to catch a glimpse of Marcos, the living, breathing icon. In southern Mexico, easily the poorest region in North America, the Sub (who may indeed be a lapsed academic named Rafael Guillen) is MLK Jr., Rage Against the Machine, and Michael Jordan rolled into one. In the United States, there simply is nothing like him. Marcos claims to have been "born in the guerrilla camp called Agua Fria, in the Lacandon Jungle, Chiapas, early one morning in 1984." But Marcos amends that he was reborn on January 1, 1994—the day NAFTA took effect. That morning, the scrubby Zapatista "army" occupied six cities and towns in southern Mexico. And so it was that an alleged renegade PoliSci prof became a folk hero. Unlike most folk heroes, Marcos is known almost entirely through his writings, which often come in the form of press releases, open letters to famous individuals, and transcribed speeches. His gift for acting locally and chatting globally is one of the things which got the Zap uprising labeled "the first Postmodern revolution" (though, in its goals, it's more accurately the last revolution that dare not speak its name, agrarian Marxist to its wealth-redistributing heart).”
NICOLAS PAGES 02/28/2001
Born in 1970 (Lausanne), Nicolas Pages is already publishing a book of memoirs à la Perec (Je me souviens) entitled Les choses communes. His first novel was Je mange un œuf (I’m eating an egg!).
ZADIE SMITH’S PORNO COLLECTION 02/28/2001
Remember Zadie Smith, the 24-year-old Cambridge undergraduate who became the first British literary sensation of the new millenium? Her first novel, White Teeth which won the Guardian First Book Award (December 2000) and the Whitbread prize for first novel (January 2001), is to be turned into a £5 million six-part series by the BBC. Zadie Smith is also editing a collection of five pornographic short stories written by some of her talented friends. I’ve been told that the title was Piece of Flesh. More soon.
GARGOYLE COMPETITION & OTHER FLASHERS 02/28/2001
Our friends at Gargoyle are holding a flash fiction competition: send them your literary flash (101 words or less), cut-and-pasted into an e-mail with “Prize” in the subject line. Your submission must be in by April 10. The author of the winning story will receive one “LiteraryLights” (First Series) matchbook per published word. The Melic Review is also organising a micro-fiction contest (300 words or less). Your submission must be e-mailed before April 15. If you’re into flash fiction, check out The Vestal Review.
JONATHAN COE & TOBY LITT 02/27/2001
Two of the most interesting novels published this month are reviewed together in The Guardian. Peter Bradshaw writes that Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club and Toby Litt’s Deadkidsongs are both “excursions not just into childhood but into the more specific, compromised and pungent world of boyhood: a 1970s boyhood, what's more, a world of cliques and gangs, of fervid, imaginary adventurism, hidden yearnings and callow posturing. For today's thirty- or fortysomething male it's a foreign country, where they do things differently, but--disconcertingly--not all that differently. Coe's novel feels autobiographical. I very much hope Toby Litt's isn't. Gangs of four are at the heart of both. Litt's book is about a quasi-military outfit in a fictional middle-England village, Amplewick; its troops go by the stoutly Anglican names of Andrew, Paul, Matthew and Peter. These teenage lads, encouraged by Andrew's creepy and abusive father, "the Major-General", fantasise about resisting the Russkies' invasion and go on increasingly sinister and fanatical manoeuvres. They're all blond and call themselves Gang, without the definite article, which has an icily Germanic ring. Coe's bunch are much less disturbing. Trotter, Harding, Anderton and Chase are the precocious, school-uniform-wearing, Oxbridge-material heroes at the independent "King William's School" in Birmingham. They progress much further than Gang into late adolescence, a period more amenable to bitter-sweet comedy. They form bands; they co-edit the school magazine; they get hung up about girls. To borrow a comparison from boys' books, Toby Litt's Aryan Gang looks like a droogish clone of Richmal Crompton's William and his Outlaws, in that their internal code of rank and precedence has nothing to do with school, where they are hardly ever seen. When Andrew leads his followers on one of their missions, he is seen "thrashing at stray stalks with a stick he'd picked up"--pure William. Coe's boys are more like sophisticated, knowing versions of characters from the pages of Ronald Searle and Geoffrey Willans or Anthony Buckeridge. For them, school is everything. It provides the culture and the weather of the novel: a benignly privileged institution represented largely without irony or even criticism.” In The Observer, Adam Mars-Jones is not impressed by Coe’s latest effort. He writes that Jonathan Coe is “a considerable novelist” and The Rotters' Club “an aberration”: “Works of literature aren't necessarily undone by mixed emotions and incoherent ideas, but The Rotters' Club is altogether too unsure what to mock and what to mourn.”
COE INTERVIEW 02/27/2001
Jonathan Coe is interviewed by Sally Vincent in The Guardian. The journalist found Coe “as grave as you'd expect a funny writer to be”: “He doesn't have an umbrella, just a long, dark-coloured overcoat that makes him look even longer than he is, which is long. Long and singular and solitary and awesomely self-contained. . . . I'd describe Coe as somewhere between handsome and beautiful, except there's something weird going on in the retinal vicinity, a slight distortion of the pupils, perhaps, and between the eyes this deep indentation suggesting a lifelong sense of perplexity. Then, too, someone has given him a sort of pre-adolescent's pudding-bowl haircut, so that every so often you get a flash of an etiolated pixie who's strayed from the enchanted forest and is feeling a tad edgy about getting back in. At all events, we're not talking run-of-the-mill here. . . . It turned out he's one of those literary blokes who wanders about a room picking up books and referring to them all the time. Hence, once out of the rain, he fished out an old BS Johnson, riffled confidently to the desired page and left me with it for 15 minutes. . . . When Coe's magnum opus, the impertinently titled What A Carve Up! was published in 1994--his fourth published novel, but the first to be panoramic in ambition and noticeable in impact--literary critics uniformly raved about its brilliance, its sociological and political acuity and its general, all-round hilarity. Not that they did him much good. It was a full year before the novel began to sell, and then by word of mouth--recognised as the book that put the definitive boot into the 80s and Thatcherism. Meanwhile, Coe was installed, much to his astonishment, as our very own prince of postmodernism. Whatever that means, ism-wise. . . . Coe had written three unpublished novels--four if you include the Jason oeuvre when he was eight--by the time he was 25. It was then he took a violent dislike to all his male protagonists and decided, in a purely literary sense, to change sex. The Accidental Woman (for it was she) wrenched £200 from the publishers Duckworth and became, he says, the literary non-event of the 80s. But it broke, as it were, his duck. He remembers what it was like back then, living in a bedsit in Coventry, sending off the Jiffy bag and getting it back with the rejection slip over and over again. He kept them. Sometimes, he gets them out and reads them again. . . . At the time, they failed to daunt; in fact, they came as terribly thrilling missives from the throbbing head of literary London. He knows now they're just stock phrases that publishers dash off a hundred times a day, but back then "shows promise" or "we'd be interested in your next effort" told him that he existed, that he was a contender. He remembers getting a rejection slip from Punch for a short story. It was just the standard thing, except that someone had written, in handwriting, "Thanks" at the bottom. It was like a beaker of water, he says, to a thirsty man. Encouraged, he moved to a shared dump in Bermondsey and set about A Touch Of Love, for which Duckworth doubled its ante. Coe, meanwhile, had already embarked on his own personal sentimental journey, a trip that strangely exemplifies the promise that life will imitate art if you take both of these things seriously. In the mid-80s, you'll recall, people read Amis and Barnes and Ishiguro et al, and Coe was no exception to this rule. His own God, however--the writer of whom he actually pronounces the word "Phew!"--is Alasdair Gray. The first Gray to strike him in the solar plexus ("And this is quite odd, actually," he understates) was called 1982, Janine. It was a novel about the Thatcher years and one night in the life of a deeply depressed man confronting the cock-up he made of his life. Janine is the fantasy figure he creates to take his mind off the loss of the love of his life. In other words, she is the great sex symbol, the redeemer of the great inconsolable cataclysm in the hearts of man. The woman. And then Coe met Janine. I mean, that was her name. So, in 1987, Janine. Coe was keeping body and soul together by working part-time in the Dickensian office of a firm of solicitors, proof-reading legal documents. It was an ideal job for a novelist in that it was so mind-numbingly boring it didn't sap your imaginative juices, so you'd be feeling quite creatively spry by the time you got back to your Oliver portable. Meanwhile, the other side of his desk, Janine was similarly employed, unaware of the significance of her Christian name. . . . Suffice it to say that the dedication of What A Carve Up! reads "1994, Janine", and subsequent novels have extended their dedications to Janine and Matilda and to Janine and Matilda and Madeline. And that Alasdair Gray, when Coe eventually met his hero, vowed to pulp 1982, Janine if anything went wrong with their marriage. Fatherhood was not a place he entered without trepidation. He had thought he would never have children, he has almost forgotten why. When you think that it's a choice you can make, that's the problem: you think about it. He thought he had parent's block the way other people have writer's block. The simple fact was that he was scared. He'd grown up, or rather not grown up, believing himself to be clever and funny, as if that was enough to be going on with. And it's not. . . . At the end of The Rotters' Club, Coe has written a sentence that goes on for 15,000 words, which will doubtless be featured in the next edition of the Guinness Book Of Records. As a triumph of form over content it has to be seen to be believed. Coe is fairly sanguine about it. He reckons the content dictated the form. Had Bent not won the girl of his dreams? Had Mrs Thatcher not been elected to lead our benighted country? Do these twin dramas not merit the odd stylistic firework? And, besides, there's a Czech writer who once wrote a whole novel with nary a full stop. So how's that for clever and funny?” Jonathan Coe will be live online on Guardian Unlimited at 3pm on March 8.
WORLD BOOK DAY 02/27/2001
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March 1 is World Book Day. Visit the official website to find out about the numerous events taking place.
English playwright Jonathan Harvey, author of Beautiful Thing, has written a musical entitled Closer to Heaven with The Pet Shop Boys. It should open at London’s Arts Theatre in May. We also learn that the musical co-written by Irvine Welsh and punk legend Vic Godard is set in the seaside resort of Blackpool. Welsh’s controversial play Filth was staged at The Citizens’ Theatre Glasgow in February (6-24). The author’s new novel Glue will be published simultaneously in the UK and the US.
BRASSAI’S PARIS 02/27/2001
A very interesting exhibition of Brassaï’s photos of Paris has opened at London’s Hayward Gallery. “The Soul of Paris” runs from 22 February-13 May.
THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD 02/27/2001
A Mod compilation album, Music Made To Measure Volume 1, containing 10 original tracks recorded by artists from the Modern Life label, including Real Crazy Apartment, T&B Specialists, The Spidermen, Monitor, Pleasure Beach (Acid Jazz Records), Nick Rossi Set and Headquarters (from the soundtrack of the forthcoming US film American Mod) will be released in April. You can order a copy (only £6.50+p&p) by calling Phone Arc's credit card hotline on 01642 666600, 7 days a week, 9am-8pm (all major cards accepted). The first 250 will see their names eternalised in the inlay credits! Modern Life is sponsored by legendary scooter manufacturers Lambretta.
ROUGH TRADE’S 25th 02/27/2001
In 1976, Geoff Travis opened a record shop called Rough Trade in London’s Kensington Road. It became one of the centres of the Punk revolution. Between 1977 and 1989, Rough Trade was one of the world’s most influential indie labels releasing records by French émigré Punks Métal Urbain or Irish die-hards Stiff Little Fingers. In the 1980s, they signed up The Smiths, arguably the most important band of that decade. Rough Trade is now celebrating its 25th anniversary with the release of a 56-track compilation album and a series of concerts including post-punk legends The Raincoats and Young Marble Giants who are reunited for one exceptional gig.
3AM COMPETITION 02/27/2001
The first reader who can spot 3AM writer Guillaume Destot in this pic will win a prize. Answers must be e-mailed to me before April 1 2001.
The British press is raving about the new production of Luigi Pirandello‘s metatheatrical classic, Six Characters Looking For an Author. It’s at The Young Vic in London until 17 March (director: Richard Jones).
On 24 February, you could read the following entry in Fitzdisc: “Well, I'm about to leave the apartment for another jam-packed day of mush, but before I split, I'd like to thank Andrew at 3 A.M.Magazine for the phat plug in his Buzzwords section for February. Good stuff. His words of inspiration are sure to keep me going here for at least another week.” Any old excuse to publish a photo of the Fitzdisc cover girl.
ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 02/27/2001
Two more satisfied customers. Here’s an extract from The Anti-Naturals’ newsletter: “Will the fun never stop? Let's hope so. If you've not seen the interview with The Anti-Naturals at 3AM Magazine you should take a look. Some of our finest work, I think.” Daniel Sendecki from sendecki.com has “received several excellent submissions” as a result of our Buzzwords plug.