Thursday, 28 October 2010

Captivation - Friday Flash

The detective tried to look into the eyes of the man across the table, but he would not meet his gaze. He knew the man was straining every muscle to keep himself from trembling. Borne of a chemical withdrawal rather than from any quailing fear abounding within their confrontation. Soon his interviewee would barely be aware of him sat here opposite, so involved in his own internal convulsions would he become.

"Do you want us to provide legal representation?" Of course he doesn't. The delay would only exacerbate his unravelling.

This time the man allowed his head to shake. Just the once.

*

The boy ever so gently cupped his hand around the butterfly. Trapped, the creature beat its wings feverishly. Even though the feel of it against the flesh of his palm was not unlike that of his rag which accompanied his thumb-sucking, this was far from comforting. Each stroke made his hand judder in response. Like a painless electric shock. As if it were the butterfly controlling him rather than the other way around. The butterfly's feeble surges produced lurching jabs of his hand. Like a shambling punch-drunk boxer.

*

"What about some coffee at least?"

"Do I look like a barrista?"

"I know my rights. I'm entitled to a drink".

"I can get you a cup of water".

"I need something to warm me up"

"I bet you do!"

"How about a tea then?"

"Don't tell me, twelve sugars! I can just bring you the sachets if you like and you can dispense with the tea. It'll be more tepid than the water that's for sure".

*

The flapping had become more intermittant. The boy finally permitted himself to exhale. When the spasmodic beats did occur, the boy's hand did not fly involuntarily away from him. Now that the palpations inside his hand weren't constant, he could concentrate on the sensation more. He realised it was more akin to turning a page of a book. That the wings were paper-like, rather than fluff fabric. His more recent books that was. Not the heavier cardboard ones with pictures and pull-the-flaps. He brought his hand up to his eye. Such motion prompted an antiphon from within.

"Hush there wee beastie" the boy whispered into his knuckles. The creature ceased its flurry.

*

The man could no longer rein in his twitching. He nipped at his skin with fingers clamped like pincers. He was muttering under his breath, but nothing the detective could make out, but he didn't interrupt its flow. Oh how he himself wished for a cigarette to mark out the time of this man's fraying. But the health and safety brigade had seen to that, even though he was more likely to be in danger from psychos with a bad nicotine craving. Fortunately the cold turkeys like this bird were too busy falling apart to launch an assault.

There was only ever an issue if they called for medical assistance. Then it got complicated. One prisoner denied just such a request spat at him proclaiming that he had AIDS and maybe he'd like to get a Doc in now... Animals, absolute animals. The only variable being the physiology of their addiction. In the time permitted to hold them without charge, will they crack under their own persecutions enough to spill their guts? In both senses of the term. So the pair of them just watch the clock countdown. One clock is mounted on the wall. The other inside every cell of the man's body.

*

The boy had it contained, but he couldn't see anything. This was the problem. He had been lured initially by its bewitching colours. But he had effaced that at an instant. Shut it up in a prison of darkness inside his hand. How he wanted to possess that beauty, but for that he needed to see it. He cast his memory back to the initial fleeting image. There was a searing orange like that of a tiger's, though not striped. Then there were those large white spots, like it had eyes on its wings. But he knew they weren't eyes, because the flutterby had never seen his palm coming. Some of the spots had black in them so that they looked like little skulls the same as on the flag of his pirate ship. Others were like the pattern on his Mum's summer dress, where the colours spread out and leaked into one another. When that happened in the washing machine and white clothes turned pink, his Mum had gone barmy. Then there were those spots that reminded him of his Dad's model aircraft that he showed him from when he was a child. They had red, white and blue circles on their wings. Maybe they copied it from the butterflies.

Now he recalled all this, he so badly wanted to open his hand and see if he was spot on. He didn't know what to do. His dad had told him that people collected butterflies, but that they knocked them out with gas and pinned them to a cork through their hearts. That seemed cruel. To kill something just to keep it in place. Dad said the colours never faded and that butterflies only lived a short time anyway. He lacked for gas, pin and cork anyway. He could just squeeze his hand more tightly. The beastie would die, but the colours would live on. Sort of like those paintings where you painted one half of the paper, then folded it over to double it. If it was rolled flat like paper, he could stick it into his scrapbook.

The boy looked at his hand and weighed up whether to open his fingers or grip them tighter.

*

The man was by now in a wretched state. He was scratching himself with real ferocity. The detective's gaze was caught by a tattoo on the man's upper arm, revealed as the sleeve of his shirt was wrenched virtually up to his shoulder. The detective had to screw his body round to view the tattoo, but the man was impervious. It appeared to be that of a butterfly. But there was something amiss with it. It wasn't to do with the track marks and wrinkled folds of skin. It just looked, well a bit too squashed.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A Little Light Molotov Cocktail Music

The firemen are going on strike on bonfire night in response to the threat of redundancy unless they sign their new employment contracts. They could be the first of many with the recent announcement of cuts to public spending here in the UK. Will there be a significant outcry, will the British rise up in a swathe of civil protest and disobedience? At the end of this post is a snippet of my novel "Not In My Name" which considered this question against the backdrop of the Iraq War. But before then, here's ten top tunes for you while you siphon petrol from cars and fill those milk bottles...

1) The Clash - "White Riot"
Now if all those people crushed like sardines bobbing their heads could just take to the streets... What interests me in this clip is the role of the hangers on & wannabe cheerleaders. Ultimately, they are the ones who stifle any militancy by their pathetic leeching. They just want to be stars...


2) Ice Cube - "We Had To Tear This Mother Up"
The whole Ice Cube album "The Predator" from which this is taken, was a devestating response to the Rodney King farrago and the subsequent riots. Righteous indignation and a searing soundtrack to a burning city.


3)Rolling Stones - "Street Fighting Man"
You wouldn't know to look at them now, but the Stones were sort of there on the front line with their drugs' bust forming part of the public discourse on the issue. But this time round we probably won't call on them to lead the charge.


4) Dead Kennedys - "Riot"
The eight or so people who get up on stage and turn it into a mini riot, only evidence the 99.9% who are content to stand in the auditorium and watch them. Cadre moshers... The song also points out that in riots, people mainly end up burning their own communities.


5) Kaiser Chiefs - "I Predict A Riot"
A predictable choice perhaps. People getting lairy just about sums it up. Or pissed and peevish as I prefer to term it.


What? it's called subversion...

6) Sonic Youth - "Teenage Riot"
Hormones frequently get in the way of political action...

7)Crass - "Bloody Revolution"
Ah happy daze...


8) Gang Of Four - "Capital (it fails us now)"
Don't say we weren't warned back in the early 80's


9) Billy Bragg - "Which Side Are You On"
One man and his guitar leads the vanguard to the promised land. Or not.


10) Cornershop - "England's Dreaming"
I quite like this song actually



Okay, I've set myself up for a grand fall by my snarkiness. For what it's worth, here's my fictional analysis of why there won't be any revolutionary uprising in the UK.

"The idea of a radical Left in this country is a joke. A contradiction in terms. Shall I tell you why -?”

“No, but I’ve a feelin’ ya gunny anyway”.

“In Latin countries, in Europe and the Americas, the foot soldiers of the Revolution can discipline and hone themselves out in the wild, sultry outdoors. Stay hidden in jungles, live out of sight in mountain ranges. Back here, we just don’t have the space. Would-be sans culottes such as the likes of you, are left to fulminate in dingy public houses and ferment your flabby beer bellies. Our climate only lends itself to beer and sandwiches militancy. Pickled onions and scotched eggs. Little Napoleons with their miniature armies of flying pickets. Your activities were responsible for the destruction of those industries as much as economic forces”.

“Is that right?”

“Too damn right it is!”

“Even ostriches have to come up from the sand for air. Your Clydeside may well have been Red, but further upstream, the only thing turning pink under the sun, wasn’t any cadres on exercises, but poached salmon. As in stolen. See, what you fail to comprehend, is most people actually quite like the quality of their life in Britain. There are some birthrights, that even the most foaming fanatic would be loathe to relinquish. How would the new order guarantee such a range of beers in our glasses, from Real Ale to imported lagers? Or maintain a languidly thrilling five test match series against former colonies? Or foster such a thriving music industry, so as to soundtrack their own personal embitterment?”

“Fer sad English bastards mebbee, do’nae tar the Scots wi’all that”.

“You never know, global warming might now foster the conditions for developing a year zero tendency in our midsts, even in Bonny Scotland. You've got the mountains there after all”.

“Yer talking pish and you know it!“




Friday, 22 October 2010

The Cosmologist's Hangover - Friday Flash

He could feel his blood seething in his veins. Or maybe it was the alcohol coursing through his blood. As urgent as salmon to spawn. And flowing contra tidal to boot.

Yet he knew he wasn't returning to any birthplace, though he may well die once he'd reached wherever it was he was aplunging. Once his head had finished splitting in two. His grey matter hellbent on flying away centrifugally (and who could blame it for wanting to secede from him?) Only to be stopped up short by his temples. Jagging flippers on the pinball table of his cranium.

There was only one thing for it. He opened his eyes hoping to focus outwards. But the world registered 'tilt'.

The ceiling rosette directly above his head was whirligigging like a catherine wheel. Possibly without the flaming sparks, though conceivably they might have been dust motes. He blinked his eyes for perspective. They felt like glasspaper and he imagined hearing two great grainy scratches across his retinas.

He chanced gazing upwards again. Now the medallion molding was maybe gyrating like a frisbee. Or a giant chinese throwing star hurtling towards decapitation. He was inclined to duck, only his head was buttressed by the mattress. There was nowhere further down for him to go.

Besides, the curlicued plaster wasn't threatening any sharp edges. Now that it receded into an ebbing stream of menace, the resemblance was more like one of those spinning plates atop a pole, or in this case, the electric cabling of the ceiling light. Gyroscoping good, he could be reasonably secure that it was never going to come off its axis and crown him.

He averted his head so that his eyes were titled to the wall rather than the overhead. Staring right at his girlfriends' giant quilted hanging of the yin-yang symbol. As he blinked his swimming eyes, the curvilinear shape started throbbing and heaving out of the wall towards him. Like a piston, only this one was swirling like those jokey hypnotic patterns. Like a shield wielded by an imaginary Amazonian warrior. Only his Amazonian had deserted him. Which is why he had hit the bottle so hard this night. To stave off one sort of withdrawal, by inviting upon himself a whole set of other symptoms.

The whole room was starting to orbit around him. But he felt far from stellar. When he was a boy, he'd had a mobile of the solar system in his room above his bed. Properly modelled to scale and with the orbits correctly fashioned once you set the thing in motion. But the lie was built in, for there is no friction in space and yet sure enough there in his bedroom, the plastic planetary spheres would eventually cease their movement.

If that travesty wasn't bad enough, because the mobile was situated over his radiator, in the winter they were bristled into strange elliptical patterns by the rising convection currents. There's no heat in space. No gusts of breath. It was these calumnies that made him want to become a scientist.
He gingerly extended his leg, dangling it over the side of the bed seeking out the carpet. Hoping against hope that the floor wasn't awash in convulsions of its own. As he did so, his foot caromed against something harder than shagpile and he darted his head to see what he'd hit.

It was a glass tumbler on its side, revolving wildly about its axis with the force he'd unwittingly imparted it with. He noticed that there was maybe a thimblefull of scotch still in it, though with each turn of the glass carousel the golden nectar threatened to eject and deny him once again. He rolled over so that his head was hanging over the side of the bed. Held in thrall by the glass's perpetual rotation. Where was friction now when you needed it? This was as agonising a wait as for the roulette wheel in a casino to cease its convolution. Red/black anticipation. Each time the spirit eked its way along the flute of the glass, gathered its energies to leap the void, only for it to be whisked back away from the rim as the glass continued to veer round madly.

Finally the glass slowed to a halt. At its termination, the liquid dribbled down over the rim and on to the carpet. Zero, House wins. He flopped back on to the body of the bed and put his hand to his head.

Gravity is experienced as a force in three and four dimensions. beyond that, it is simple geometry. The local warp of space between two objects of large mass. Like planets. Like the headache he was toiling under, when one of the objects had departed the scene and gouged a big hole in his spacetime fabric. He would have a cosmological hangover in the morning.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

My Jukebox

My dream (fantasy) of having made it as a world famous author and therefore with some disposable income, was that I would buy myself an original jukebox and stock it with some of my choice 7" singles that I have been unable to play for about 15 years now for want of Hi-Fi.

Of course, though my fantasy has long since gone West, you can just type the band into YouTube and pretty much unless they're really obscure, there will be some version of your holy song. Maybe even an early live performance of it to boot.

So here's my virtual jukebox, transposed to a blog. It was always a tough job deciding which tunes would go on, but here's my top 10. Welcome your suggestions, but it must exist on 7" vinyl - no 12" DJ remixes!

10) "(Looking Through) Gary Gilmore's Eyes" - The Adverts.
There was punk, three chord thrash, but pretty quickly there was also a slightly more musically accomplished and lyrically interesting New Wave. Here the Adverts made a generation of Brit youth aware of who Gary Gilmore was and where Utah was too.


9) "Alphaville" - The Monochrome Set
The beauty of 7" vinyl is that you have B-sides, of which this was one, with the inferior "He's Frank" being the A-side release. I never saw The Monochrome Set live, but was told I didn't miss much as they stood stock still while screens played projections of them. So I don't feel bad that there's no visuals to this, just enjoy the song, it's a bit of a gem.


8) "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With?)" - Buzzcocks
They all look a bit older and fatter in this recent vid, but there's no disguising the greatness of this song. One of the few I've got from that period without any kind of picture sleeve.


7)"Where's Captain Kirk?" - Spizz Energy
Nutty as a box of frogs, the band changed their name every few months and used to advertise gigs by saying 'see them before they change their name'. This is a classic song by any standards, frivolous, lo-fi and yet strained through the muslin of utter genius.


6)"Totally Wired" - The Fall
Great video for this song replete with drummer dropping a stick in the drum intro! When Mark e Smith & Marc Riley were still prepared to share a stage.


5)"Paranoid" - Black Sabbath
I'm not saying the vinyl I've got for this is an original, since I would have been about 6 years old on first release, but I am happy enough to own this. Despite my punk & new wave leanings, this is a seminal track from a band that influenced so many of the likes of Butthole Surfers and Ministry. Respec'


4) "My Perfect Cousin" - The Undertones
It was a close call between this and "Teenage Kicks" which after all also has the marvellous "Emergency Cases" on the B-side, but to me this is the perfect pop-punk song, just check out those snide lyrics and with it's glorious Subbuteo sleeve, what could be better? Of course with a jukebox only requiring the vinly and not the sleeve, I'd have to mount the vacant sleeves up on the wall in the Rough Trade West stylee...


3)"You Got Good Taste" - The Cramps
I've got this in see through green vinyl (remember that?) We were always warned such vinyl was inferior and not good for one's hi-fi. Screw it, it's going in my Wurlitzer cos I've got such good taste... Lux Interior RIP


2) "Holiday In Cambodia" - Dead Kennedys
Just to get the jukebox party going into overdrive you understand... B-Side "Police Truck" a much underrated gem.


1) "Money" - The Flying Lizards
I love this deconstruction of Barrett Strong's original so much I've bought it twice after playing it so much in my youth scratched up my original copy. Man tracking down a replacement was hard work and yes it's also got a small scratch, but I had to own this again.





Monday, 18 October 2010

Do You Re-Read Books?

I never really read books as a child. I was too busy playing football in the winter and cricket in the summer. If I read at all, it was Tintin and Asterix, cos they like, you know, had pictures in them...

The book that turned me on to literature was Albert Camus' "L'Etranger". An older cousin of mine, who I always tried to cling on to the coat-tails of his cool, had recommended that I listen to The Cure song "Killing An Arab" and read the Camus' book.


I faithfully did both and have never looked back in either category. (Thanks Cuz!) I have been a voracious reader ever since.

Every year I made sure I found space on my list to re-read "L'Etranger". I think I probably kept this up for about eight to ten years. The number of other novels I've read for even a second time I can probably count on the fingers of one hand. I almost never go back to a book I've read, I think because somewhere psychologically, I feel it would hold me up from discovering the next great novel on my list.

As with L'Etranger", I'm sure reading most books would yield things I missed first time round. And though I am indubitably a different person from the one twenty years ago, (having become a parent for example), would I inevitably have a different reaction to a book I had read twenty years ago? I don't know the answer to this and my empirical sample is too slight to base any conclusion on.

Also, the thing is, I kind of like imbibing what I can from reading a book for the first time. The way it can both wash over and yet percolate me. If one returns to a previously read book, both mechanisms are dampened by a base recall of the plot and character from the first time round. I've recently finished Tom McCarthy's superlative "C" (reviewed here). The book is rich in intertextuality and reference, but I feel I got the ones I got and that to read it again may yield me me more of the references I missed first time round, but would that in itself enhance my pleasure over and above what I obtained a couple of weeks ago?

I'm curious when I read online reviews of books when the reviewer mentions they would like to re-read it, whether they in fact do return to it at a later date? Like "L'Etranger", many readers have their one or two seminal texts that they return to over and over again, but do readers do it routinely with more titles than just these?

I'm about to launch into a re-read of Murakami's "Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World". The reason for this is mainly because I want to study its ingenious dual plot structure that work themselves towards a convergence that just doesn't seem possible at the outset. I want to study it because it impinges on my own work in progress. Yet I can't help feeling it's going to take the gloss off my memory of one of my all time favourite reads.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Names - Friday Flash

Sanchez (SS), Rodriguez (CF), Palmeiro (DH), Valdez (2B), Guerrero (1B), Reyes (LF), Castillo (3B), Martinez (C), Cruz (RF). The Dominican daily newspaper faithfully reported the baseball box scores. Day after day the players dreamed of a fat contract in the Major Leagues just across the ocean. The numbers against their name would be the key factor to securing that new life.

Morris (x4) 8.15. Carhart (x2) 9pm. O'Shaugnessey (x5) 8.45. Davidovich (x8) 8.30. Somers (x2) 9pm. Vickers (x4) 10pm. The Strickland party has just cancelled their reservation. That's eight meals the restaurant is out on, unless we get some walk up custom. Vickers, once a year on their anniversary; if you look back in the book exactly one year, there they'll be. Complementary drinks for them. Put the O'Shaugnessey party on the table for eight. Then we won't look so bereft...

Francoise Mauriac, Francis Jeansen, Jean-Paul Sartre, Guy Debord, Andre Breton, Marguerite Duras, Andre Masson, Alain Resnais, Simone Signoret, Maurice Blanchot, we the undersigned wish to state our opposition to the present governmental and national policy. We hope that the value and weight of our names on the spines of our books, on the credits of our movies and on the corners of our canvasses will help sway the minds of countless of our countrymen to apply their own names to our petition. Merci et vive la Republique!

Wayne Crawford Perth, Australia. Carla Baldelli, Bari, Richard and Diane Wood, Bath, UK. Angelos Charisteas, Thessaloniki. Radoslaw Murawski & Dariusz Glowacki, Wrocklaw, Polska. We love your holy cathedral, it is very inspiring. But we don't understand why people scratch their names into the wall when we are happy to sign this book of visitors. They spoil its beauty we think. You must take better care of the holy.

J.Clark 607701, 3 books history. N.Hardiman 644093, 2 books fiction, 1 book literary criticism. V.Stanger 688156, 1 book popular science. G.Oswald 633271, 3 audiobooks. K.Guptil 649757, 2 books renewed cookery /house and garden. L.Simmonds 656920, 5 books, romance (overdue fines paid in full)

Merrick L, Merrill N, Merry D, Merryman K, Merryweather B, Merryweather H, Mervyn P, Line after line, column after column, the ranks slaughtered trying to rush the enemy trenches of the First World War. The men drawn from this modest village into a worldwide conflict. Commemorated on the marble plinth bearing a white obelisk atop. The Church that played host to it now without a congregation as the youth have all long since left the area.

8.15 Miller B to D. 9.15 Coleman Brow Lift. 11.30 McCallister C to E. 13.30 Kavanagh Tummy Tuck 16.00 Reed Liposuction 17.45 Vincent B to DD. The names on the notes change, but not the hankering to be somebody else.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

"C" by Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy's Booker Prize shortlisted novel "C" has been described as "experimental", "modernist" and even an "anti-novel" (by Christopher Tayler in "The Guardian"). I don't believe it is any of these at all, though it is still ambitious and daring enough to deserve carrying off the prize.

It is actually rather conventional in structure, portraying a fictional but highly credible character, moving through a recognisable historical period. Both narrative and subjectivity are absolutely linear, in that it traces the 24 year life of Serge Carrefax, in chronological order, through four main stages of his life. The period he lives through, from 1898 to 1922, sees huge technological advances culminating in the First World War, Einstein's theories of relativity, Freud's psychoanalytical theories, Eliot's "The Wasteland" and Joyce's "Ulysses". Thus accordingly the novel is suffused with modernism, but as a study of it and its legacies, rather than a modernist work in itself. The writing is limpid and tight, and though there are allusions and references aplenty, with some modest plays on language, the ambition is in the book's scope rather than any gamut of intertextuality.

However I believe one has to acknowledge an earlier defining epistemological moment just prior to the novel's opening, when Nietzsche and others in the face of science and rationality pronounced God to be dead. With the divine Clockmaker removed, now comes the search for the hidden codes and logic underpinning the world and gluing our human existence together. Through Serge, McCarthy resolutely shows up man's flawed search to answer these questions and thereby depth charges any possibility of a humanist philosophy successfully replacing the theological. For as voiced by an archeologist, "The mistake most of my contemporaries make is to assume that they're the first... that their moment of looking is somehow definitive, standing outside the long history of which it merely forms another chapter".

This is a conflict between the old and the new forces of modernity. A play staged alfresco at his father's school for the deaf, hints at the silver screen's imminent eclipse of the theatre by an insertion of a white sheet for projecting scenery upon. A war artist complains that the battlefield won't stand still long enough for his depictions, or that it is obscured by gas and cordite smoke, "how can you paint something when you can't even see what it is?" He is advised to photograph the scenes instead. On the one hand Serge takes the spa waters to clear up his intestinal problems, yet it is only a good seeing to by his earthy hunchback masseuse in a manner which Freud would heartily approve, which clears up both this symptom (probably provoked by the death of his older sister) and his viewing of the world as if through a membrane. To such an extent that he can join up with the nascent RAF as an aerial spotter in the Great War.

It is this second section of the novel during the War which is perhaps its strongest, both in terms of the interweave of motifs McCarthy deals in and in the reader getting inside Serge's character. He tries to replace the heavenly god with the distortions and shaping of space afforded to him by dog rolls and dives in the plane. By the flattening of the ground from his eerie, where armies of men look like ants and the trenches look like a labyrinth. But most significantly, by his desire to merge with the humming machinery and wires of his plane. The high death toll for airmen is something he welcomes, in his quest to embrace what he calls a "quickening". An unwitting Futurist man, indelibly tied to motorised machinery. But Serge cannot resonate with the periodicity of the machines, cannot match their frequency.

In addition to the new rhythms of machine-led pulsation, the novel considers the new architectural space, of pylons and subterranean cabling, man reaching for the sky and tunneling underground. Everything becomes a transmission, prefiguring the data overload of our current virtual world. The ancient Egyptian scarab amulet on which secrets were inscribed in order to disarm their gravity, "the scarab withholds the vital information even as it inscribes it?" underlies the book's drive. It's further concerned with encryption, trying to tease the meaning from seemingly chaotic signals, yet yielding only static interference, white noise, and a Babel of conflicting disembodied voices. In the post Great War world, French, British and Bolshevik agents and spies are trying to spin webs of deceit and intrigue to misdirect their rivals. Even Serge is unsure whether the mission he is charged with is genuine, or just some dummy activity. All information is to be monitored, just as every detail is logged and annotated on the archeological digs. But no one can differentiate the vital and the legitimate, from the false and the peripheral.

Insect imagery accompanies virtually every scene, be they flyers, burrowers or crawlers. And of course they too have antennae and buzz and drone like machinery. Their constant presence is both a litmus test for mankind's progress and a reminder of no matter how much we use technology to harness our environment, the creepy crawlies maintain their own humble adaptive pertinacity to also colonise the globe. When Serge overturns his car and is pinned underneath, he begs his rescuers not to remove his "carapace". This is akin to Kafka's cockroach in"Metamorphosis", only Serge has no layers of guilt or shame armouring him. Serge is trying to evolve into a future human, yet this early nod to cybernetics, like his earlier yen to fuse with the plane's fuselage, come to naught.

The book is undoubtedly a tour de force, but one that shows a real deftness of touch. It only stretches to 310 pages, where in other hands it would likely meander on towards 500+. It encapsulates a historical period economically, while inviting the reader to populate it with his own imagination, rather than leading us by the nose. It wears its erudition lightly as well. The strength of the novel is in its layering of symbols and motifs. Spun as finely as the silk Serge's mother has a cottage industry producing. The breadth of ideas displayed here are always handled by McCarthy in literary fashion, which is no mean feat, as in the hands of lesser authors, discursions would be made in order to handle bed them in. If the Man Booker Prize is for the 'best' novel, I really believe of the six shortlisted, this ought to be it.

Plugger Booker

What is The Man Booker prize for? Its rubric is to reward the 'best original full-length novel written in English' which seeing as that revolves around interpretation of a word like 'best' is about as wooly as it can get.

It's not a 'best' as determined by sales figures. Nor could it be, seeing that two of those making the final short-list, were held back from release to bookshops until the longlist was published and they could be stickered accordingly. So they were nominated with only the Judges and those who had received review copies the sole people to have read them. No nod in the direction of the reading public whatsoever.

I have no problem with arts industries having a beano to recognise their annual achievements. We have the Oscars, the Baftas and a whole raft of music award ceremonies. But we must recognise that they are mainly plugging opportunities to push the nominated works further in the marketplace. The amount of lobbying that has been going on behind the scenes for some of the shortlisted titles reinforces the notion that this is less about the art and more about the marketing boost landing the prize can provide.

Yet it's here where I think literature is at a disadvantage compared to those more populist art forms. Jonathan Franzen argues that literature is no longer a mass art form, but very much a niche one, albeit one populated by devotees ("born readers" as he calls them). In an internet age of book bloggers and online reading groups which supplement the Broadsheet reviewers, the chances are this community are already going to be conscious of the chosen books. It gives them something to talk about, but is it introducing them to titles and authors they were unaware of previously?

Therefore one has to ask whether the Booker Prize serves to push its nominees out to a less informed constituency? One independent bookseller reported to me that there was little significant upsurge in several of the longlisted titles, though this was unlikely to be a reflection of any industry wide malaise, since a debut American novel was flying off his shelves.

Certainly the winner, to judge by 2009's "Wolf Hall", stands to see a huge impetus to sales. But again, I wonder at the penetration into the public beyond Franzen's "born readers" cohort. It's not like a good old fashioned obscenity trial which impelled "Lady Chatterly's Lover" into homes up and down the country. Again, anecdotal as it is, my father bought Mantel's book with its "Booker Winner" sticker for my wife's birthday, because he didn't know what to get her. The book was moved on unread...

That the Prize is largely about marketing should not be in doubt. Indeed the longlist itself was only made public as recently as 2001 and that reputedly so as to prevent mutterings of unseemly dark practises. This year, Twitter was abuzz with queries as to why people had received emails from Amazon pushing the shortlisted novels, before the list had been officially announced.

Having said all this, I think the Judging panel under the Chairmanship of Sir Andrew Motion, have put together a reasonably good list. Last year I wasn't moved to read any of the nominees, but this year I have read three. Which brings me back to the notion of what makes a book 'the best'? To my mind the winner - ideally all six nominated books, but let's not get too ambitious - should be a remarkable book. Not a solid, nor merely a well-written one. This isn't 'good reads', but 'the best' read. Something about it should be notable, or conspicuously different from its peers. Now I'll be honest, of the three I've read, none quite come into this 'remarkable' category, while I suspect two of the other nominees are more on the list in recognition for their career body of work rather than these specific novels à la the Oscars. But I would still like to commend one title to you as a worthy recipient of the prize, because I believe it to be the 'best' book on the list.

Tomorrow I'll blog which of the nominated books I'd like to see win.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Lunar Tic - FridayFlash

I'd waged a hunger strike in order to secure a clock for my room. I claimed it as a basic human rite to know what time it is. The cunning bastards ensured it wasn't a twenty-four hour one, so I'm still none the wiser.

Lacking for any windows and with the electric light on all the time, eternally I have no idea whether it is day or night beyond my four walls.

Meal times are no help in apportioning the day, since I am provided with just two servings instead of the customary three. Unlike the old days, there is no porridge or toast to delineate breaking of the night-time fast. So now I don't even know when I'm supposed to be asleep. How's that supposed to help my prognosis?

Room temperature is maintained at a constant, so there's no call for soups to warm up cold days and salads in the height of summer. Now, an unremitting diet of charred meat on the bone twice a day. No accompanying vegetables. No cutlery even to eat it with. "We don't want you to stab yourself do we?"

When they installed the clock, they asked me if I wanted a calendar for my wall. "No bare flesh though" they smirked. I replied I had no need of one. For each day bleeds one into the other. I simply need to know when day is and when night is.

My body is simply bereft of cues for its own inner rhythms. As was intended.

Though they give me pills to take, these fail to provide me with any inkling as to my place within the cycle. I forced myself to stay up through seven double revolutions of my clock without sleep. Scratching each completed period on to the wall. In that time I'd received ten doses. I flushed them down my toilet.

My mother had a phobia of snakes. Not the creatures themselves, but of how they moved. My Shrink frottaged himself almost to orgasm when I threw him that titbit. But I remember that it meant as a child we could only visit the reptile house in the zoo, on the day when they turned the temperature down to ensure there was no snakes in their sinuous motion.

And now the doctors are doing the same to me.

They don't want me to know when the moon is out, let alone what phase it's in.

They mock me with their cooked meats.

They want to deprive me of all my senses, but I will recover them and go hunting once again.

While mother confronted her fears in the artificially stilled reptile house, I was off peering through the bars of the wolf enclosure. Longingly.