Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Six Degrees Of Literary Separation

J. Randy Taraborelli - "Michael Jackson"

I was never a fan of Jackson, so I can’t honestly say I’ve read this, but he does make an appearance in my upcoming novel in the form of someone wanting to change their skin pigmentation. That is, to deny and defy their genetic fate.

Now here’s a strange thing, Michael Jackson has not one, but two connections to English football (soccer for American readers). Firstly he had a statue erected to him outside the ground of Fulham Football Club in London. Not quite as random as you might think, the then Chairman of the club was a good friend of his. Now that the chairman has moved on from football, the fans couldn’t wait for the statue to be removed as it caused them a lot of ragging from rival supporters. I’m kind of curious where that statue is now, or whether it’s been melted down. 

The second connection is a bit looser, or what we writers call ‘poetic licence’. Michael Jackson had a pet chimp called Bubbles and another London football club West Ham United’s song is called “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, which also caused much hilarity when the lewd spin was put on it by some wag or other. 

Cass Pennant - “Cass” 

West Ham United were one of the clubs with the worst reputation for hooligan violence. They turned it into an art form, literally since as they aged disgracefully and gradually left the field of conflict, they turned their experiences into books and films. One of the most notorious was Cass Pennant, who has both a film and production company to his name to promote his stories. Not a bad business empire for a football hooligan, but I wonder what his next magnum opus is going to be. 

Italo Calvino - “Our Ancestors” 

There were so many movies made about English football hooligans, that they generated their own spoof movie en homage. It was called "The Hooligan Factory" and featured a leader of one of the football gangs called 'The Baron'. 

Calvino was a marvellous writer as this collection of three stories based on Italian folk tales demonstrates. Three stories about knights in the dying days of the chivalric code. One is a story about an empty suit of armour who behaves and acts as though it is still occupied by its former knight owner. "The Baron In the Trees" is about a young aristocrat who rejects his inherited Baronetcy by going to live up a tree. The third is about a Viscount who is cloven in half by a Turkish cannonball on the battlefield in Bohemia and becomes two people, one unerringly misanthropic, the other altruistic, yet both make the recipients of their respective actions uneasy.

Mathias Enard - “Zone” 

I only read this last Christmas but what a fantastic read. Basically the relentless history of conflict in the Mediterranean of Europe, the Balkans and North Africa. All told in one unending sentence that mimics this repeated, remorseless history of grudges and bloodshed.

Steven Galloway - “The Cellist of Sarajevo” 

One of the more recent conflicts in the area of Enard’s “Zone” was the terrible conflict in Bosnia and this book is a portrayal of both the desperation and the soaring nature of the human spirit. After 22 people die in a bomb blast, a cellist sits at the spot and plays an adagio every day for 22 days in their memory, in full sight of the snipers who could kill him with one bullet. Haunting stuff.

Michel Faber - “The Courage Consort” 

A small novel, but so beautifully drawn by a master craftsman. A vocal ensemble are rehearsing a really hard modern composition for voice and the book very simply dissects the relationships of the ensemble in such a precise, laser-like way, yet still retains the warmth of humanity behind all the tensions and petty squabbles.

So a strange journey from the Prince of Pop, through the king of football hooliganism, through Italian folk tales updated for the modern reader, the history of conflict in Mediterranean Europe, classical music in a warzone as an act of defiance and finally the petty conflicts of a vocal quintet. 

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