At 10:35 on an early summer's morning, John Lanchester sat down at his study desk, switched on his new Dell computer, opened up the word processing programme that the computer had come with and began

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

http://artswrap.co.uk/sites/default/files/imagecache/event_image_full/John%20Lanchester.jpg

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_TFBp8yq9lN0/TVADjVtkD-I/AAAAAAAAK1c/jmebtc7mrkw/s1600/pj-harvey-let-england-shake.jpg

Because I didn't want to clutter up the What Are You Reading thread with the way this book perpetually perks its folly in my face.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:18 (five years ago) Permalink

On a rainy morning in early December, an 82-year-old woman sat in her front room at 42 Pepys Road, looking out at the street through a lace curtain. Her name was Petunia Howe...

Don't be absurd! Also, reader wonders whether she is distantly or even closely related to Geoffrey.

The proprietor of 51 Pepys Road, the house across the road from Petunia Howe's, was at work in the City of London. Roger Yount sat at his office desk at his bank, Pinker Lloyd, doing sums.

I hope you're already getting a sense of fatigue at the toiling rhythm and progress of his sentences, the way he leaves nothing to chance.

It was late afternoon. Roger sat on one of the sofas in his office,

Stop telling me the time of day.

Ahmed Kamal, who owned the shop (sorry thomp) at the end of Pepys Road, number 68, came awake 3.59 in the morning, one minute before his alarm was set to go off.

Please stop telling me the time of day. Also - came awake?

Shahid Kamal, who was due to work a shift at the family shop between eight o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening, walked down the street at a brisk clip.

ffs

At number 51 Pepys Road, Mrs Arabella Yount...

At ten o'clock Shahid was stacking...

Two weeks before Christmas, Petunia sat...

I've reached Part 2. Things are going to start happening!

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:19 (five years ago) Permalink

You can't buy this sort of publicity. Will read (this thread).

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:23 (five years ago) Permalink

Didn't bring the book with me today, of course.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:29 (five years ago) Permalink

I was on the verge of ordering this yesterday, will hold off on that one then.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:47 (five years ago) Permalink

Can tell you the characters of course.

You just have to insert ffs or 'oh god' after each one:

Petunia Howe - an octogenarian lady who notices how young people like doctors are etc.

Roger and Arabella Yount - a wealthy banker and his wife who likes shopping and spas and says 'dahling'.

Quentina Mkfesi BSc MSc - a Zimbabwean refugee (escaping political death squads), who can't be deported, and who has a job as a traffic warden.

'Bogdan' Zbigniew (can't remember his surname) - a Polish builder who is saving up money to give to his father back in Poland. He saves this money up by playing the stock market (??).

Ahmed, Usman, and Shahid. Brothers who collectively run a corner shop. Shahid has dabbled in terrorism, and a shady terrorist friend from his past has just appeared on the scene. Goes to a militant mosque in Brixton. Can't remember what Usman does.

Freddy Kamo(!) - Young African footballer with lanky legs (Lanchester is an Arsenal fan right?) who plays for a thinly disguised Chelsea. Always smiling. Stern father.

Smitty - a 'concept' artist, who leaves anonymous graffiti around the place, and who Lanchester somehow manages to get talking in a faux faux-Cockney/Mockney.

All of these behave exactly as you'd imagine they'd behave if you a) had no imagination b) got all your information from Sunday Supplements/daytime tv? apart from 'surprising' gestures towards 'civilised' or nuanced (ie white male) thinking.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:49 (five years ago) Permalink

read you talking about this in the reading thread and am glad this hilarious spin-off exists

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:53 (five years ago) Permalink

Why isn't there a racist taxi driver? I demand a racist taxi driver.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:53 (five years ago) Permalink

further comments from here, Matt. Just couldn't be bothered to cnp them all in.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:54 (five years ago) Permalink

Ah, with Lanchester the 'racist taxi driver' would in fact be a surprisingly tolerant racist taxi driver who has a copy of the Economist on the front shelf of his taximetered cabriolet.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:55 (five years ago) Permalink

Q. Is the problem with "state of the nation" novels usually that they are written by people far removed from most of the nation?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:56 (five years ago) Permalink

Q. I though Lanchester's steez was a kind of sub-Banville aestheticism. Wtf was he thinking?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 11:57 (five years ago) Permalink

A little surprised there are no media types, unless that's Smitty's role of course. There should also be a harassed woman juggling kids with running some sort of poorly-funded third-sector body.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 11:58 (five years ago) Permalink

Must have fancied it after everyone loved Whoops!, I guess. Once you're thinking 'I get bankers, I've talked to a lot of bankers', and you've written abt London property, it must be p much irresistible to write a 'city of do-you-see contrasts' novel.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:12 (five years ago) Permalink

Also - came awake?

It's when someone has a nocturnal emission so violent that it wakes them up.
The cover of this book annoys me the way the cover of 'Cloud Atlas' does.

a box on the wall that sends the wind to make FPs marginally less (snoball), Friday, 9 March 2012 12:16 (five years ago) Permalink

Is there any detailed exposition of what bankers actually do, other than having three computer screens? Ian McEwan, even if being tedious, would always have some of this to redeem it.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:19 (five years ago) Permalink

xpost to NV.

thomp p much nailed The Debt to Pleasure on the what are you reading thread - 'debt to pleasure' = would maybe have like to have been nabokov when it grew up, narrator has poisoned some dudes, envies his brother's career as chef, is self-described gourmand, presents memoir of dudes he has poisoned as a series of menus. it's aight i guess.

Problems with this state of the nation novel, with a star by problems that I think are possibly generic pitfalls:

The characters attempt to be 'representative' and of course are pure ciphers and representative of nothing.*

Lanchester isn't very good, in fact is very very bad at filling his book with material.

The need to fill your book with situations that, again, are representative, makes it feel like satireless satire.*(unless its actual satire)

Capital is extraordinarily badly written on a sentence by toiling sentence basis, which makes me wonder whether he's even capable of doing the sub-Banville aestheticism, on any level.

Insights of daily life barely merit the name insight, apart from a couple of occasions where I said to myself 'yeah, I guess that's just about a thing'.

The interior monologues of the characters are utterly utterly dreadful, full of truly mundane material that should never be in a book. 'So and so looked at the Prius and its leather seats, he wished he could afford a Prius but in the meantime would continue to take the tubefghk;lsfb;hadfjghvflk;sxnhjnhj'

It is a book whose messages come as a clearly attached post-it at the beginning of each chapter. *(I guess - message novels have to stay on message, rather than let the imagination of the writer take them in places that are interesting or entertaining. You just feel like you're being shown things that you've read a thousand times before in longer-form journalism.)

What it reminds me of most is The Information by Martin Amis, which isn't an amazing book, but is world's classics status compared to Capital. Amis wouldn't call a bar 'Uprising' but he might do something similar, better, but similar. Likewise there are the shady figures, the underclasses, the outsider figures, presaging doom for the main power characters.

But MA was probably the best recent State of the Nation novelist? He was funny and he was a very good writer, which helped. Still easy to come a cropper, with the all CAPS text messaging in Yellow Dog for instance. And everything from The Information onwards has been increasingly flawed, and is probably a continuation of the things that made London Fields weaker than Money?

Any other candidates for good recent State of the Nation novelists? (Or any time - would George Eliot have counted? Probably?)]

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:21 (five years ago) Permalink

xp

His dad was some kind of banker iirc, & he does seem to have actual friends in the city, so you think it'd be his strong suit.

Feel like this is going to be a MAJOR NEW DRAMA on BBC1 at some point.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:22 (five years ago) Permalink

What a Carve Up? I remember it being good, but don't trust 90s me as a judge tbh. It also doesn't quite take the cross-section of society route iirc.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:24 (five years ago) Permalink

Amis also had a couple of Zbigniews in I think London Fields.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:25 (five years ago) Permalink

McEwan's Saturday is clunky-as-hell but basically alright.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:26 (five years ago) Permalink

Is there any detailed exposition of what bankers actually do, other than having three computer screens? Ian McEwan, even if being tedious, would always have some of this to redeem it.

― Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:19 (2 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

There isn't, perhaps surprisingly. There's some rather awkward handwaving towards types of trading, and bankery things, to indicate he knows what he's talking about (which he does), but it's kept at a minimum, I suspect because Lanchester feared (prob rightly) that going too much into it would a)be disproportionate b)reveal that he knows rather less about the working detail of everyone else.

I think a fictional account of a banker by Lanchester, or a group of bankers, would have been far more interesting than this 'terrorist', 'immigrant', 'old lady', 'young artist' media stereotype bollocks.

Things where you can tell Lanchester feels more comfortable:

Talking about football (this isn't good, but it doesn't feel RONG).
Bringing up small children (this isn't funny, but " " " ")

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:26 (five years ago) Permalink

er 'of a banker or a group of bankers by Lanchester' not 'by Lanchester or group of bankers' obv.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:27 (five years ago) Permalink

xp

aesthetic saturday objections aside, I think a state-of-the-nation has to be significantly longer than that, 400pp minimum.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:28 (five years ago) Permalink

Heh, I like the idea of a group of bankers writing as Luther Blisset.

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:29 (five years ago) Permalink

is Hensher's Northern Clemency in this vein? Anyone read that?

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:32 (five years ago) Permalink

Wasn't Amis' new book originally going to be called The State Of England? A better title than Lionel Asbo, anyway.

I enjoyed Theo Tait putting the boot into Ali Smith's last, vaguely S-o-E book: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n02/theo-tait/the-absolute-end - doesn't happen often enough, presumably because of the very small world of London publishing. Read the kindle sample of the Lanchester and couldn't believe how slack it was, yet I haven't read a bad, or even mixed, review yet.

Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:51 (five years ago) Permalink

Have the feeling this is going to belong on this thread soon:

http://fivedials.com/images/672.jpg

Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 12:58 (five years ago) Permalink

private eye gave captial a stinky review, fwiw

x-post

― Ward Fowler, Thursday, 8 March 2012 14:25 (Yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:05 (five years ago) Permalink

I am actually looking forward to Lionel Asbo.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:05 (five years ago) Permalink

xp

I also saw a mixed somewhere serious, but can't remember where.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:06 (five years ago) Permalink

How about a state-of-the-nation novel not set in London? Is there such a thing?

Ismael Klata, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:07 (five years ago) Permalink

oh, theo tait again, Guardian.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:07 (five years ago) Permalink

If the Northern Clemency is that sort of thing, it seems to be Sheffield-based. But I think most SoN-type novels would try to do London a bit maybe? At least have one character moving/working there?

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:11 (five years ago) Permalink

Actually, I may be imagining it, but is there something of Adam Curtis's faux-humdrum tone to some of those opening sentences up top? Like how all his BBC blogs begin with sentences like "One September night in 1945 three British mathematicians and astronomers went to see a new film at a cinema in Cambridge". I can almost hear Curtis reading the one about Petunia Howe.

Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:13 (five years ago) Permalink

i was a fan of What a Carve Up when i read it but when i've flicked through it since i thing i was mostly wrong, and the clumsiness i excused as Dickensian at the time just reads like clumsiness to me now.

interesting to think of Middlemarch as a state-of-the-nation novel because of course it's addressing "middle England" before the fact, at a time when it was far from central to English notions of England maybe?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:13 (five years ago) Permalink

iirc Lanchester has too many friends in the journalism trade to get many bad reviews?

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:15 (five years ago) Permalink

Wasn't Amis' new book originally going to be called The State Of England? A better title than Lionel Asbo, anyway

Should have just gone the whole hog with 'I Hate The Fucking Proles'.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:38 (five years ago) Permalink

don't think he realises his dad was sometimes joking

Nultified Ancients of Man U (Noodle Vague), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:39 (five years ago) Permalink

I quite enjoyed that Ali Smith book as I was reading it but some of its sympathetic characters are more annoying than its unsympathetic characters and it descends into caricature rather a lot. Also it doesn't really go anywhere.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 9 March 2012 13:40 (five years ago) Permalink

oh, theo tait again, Guardian.

― woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:07 (31 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

"Actually it was a good sandwich," runs a typical sentence

Good job the review has forewarned me of this particular sentence, otherwise I might have hurled the book across the room.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:44 (five years ago) Permalink

That review is spot on about the 'drone' of the prose. Also:

And there's a lot of slightly lazy repetition: "Parker, the boy she had been going out with ever since they kissed at a sixth-form dance on a hot June night back at sixth-form college."

This! Who on earth let this sort of thing through? It's like the weird repetition of the business about the skips and builders in the first chapter and the 'Transport for London card charging device'.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:54 (five years ago) Permalink

There was an interview I skimmed through that did say L's dad was banker. But so what? Isn't part of the 'story' how the system almost took on a life of its own and no one really has any control/understanding?

Part of the reason why I never got round to Whoops! anyway was that all of a sudden this novelist that is never on your radar acquires an interest over these topical matters - except that in this case, as I've said, my impression is that even the so-called experts are no experts when it comes to the financial system, so what chance does this guy have? The other reason is that unemployed/laid-off bankers started writing a mountain of these so cynicism set in.

Related but separate thing is you have other novelists I think I'd hate - Geoff Dyer and Adam Mars-Jones writing bks on things I really like: on Stalker and Late Spring, whereas I would like to see these being written by film writers that would bring wider knowledge on Japanese and Russian cinema instead of what I think it would be (= too many boring personal reflections...its for the fans you know). Its depressing that this might be the only way for bks to get published on really interesting films/topics and this seems like the only way to get any shelf-space/coverage.

I guess they've done their 'research', ffs.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:01 (five years ago) Permalink

'the system' took control -- this is SF material of course, fuck 'station of the nation' bullshit.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:04 (five years ago) Permalink

otm.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:05 (five years ago) Permalink

iirc Lanchester has too many friends in the journalism trade to get many bad reviews?

yes, I get the impression he's well-liked; also bad reviews aren't really done that much anymore (there was some fuss about this recently, maybe centred around that hatchet-job award?). The notable thing is how much attention it's getting - I got the impression that Lanchester was slipping into the terminal midlist zone before this, releasing also-reviewed, diminishing-returns novels every few years. Now he's a hit! I guess that's partly Whoops!, partly a canny topic, partly a very quiet literary spring in the uk, partly book-page need to have some literary middle-aged men to take seriously.

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:18 (five years ago) Permalink

Actually, I may be imagining it, but is there something of Adam Curtis's faux-humdrum tone to some of those opening sentences up top? Like how all his BBC blogs begin with sentences like "One September night in 1945 three British mathematicians and astronomers went to see a new film at a cinema in Cambridge". I can almost hear Curtis reading the one about Petunia Howe.

― Stevie T, Friday, 9 March 2012 13:13 (56 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

there is a little bit. But I think the thing that annoys me about these specific sentences is the way he smuggles in other information. The 'brisk clip', and another one where after the usual time and season bollocks, Lanchester puts in a 'slightly out of breath'. I wouldn't mind so much if it was as formulaic as Adam Curtis' 'I'm going to tell you the story of x. It's a remarkable story that involves x,y,z,π and ك'.'

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:23 (five years ago) Permalink

Idk, should this be changed into a 'State of the Nation' novel thread? Change title one of these maybe?

'Actually it was a good sandwich' - State of the Nation novels and what is in them

'fuck 'station of the nation' bullshit'

'I am actually looking forward to Lionel Asbo'

'Why isn't there a racist taxi driver? I demand a racist taxi driver'

'I also saw a mixed somewhere serious'

'i'm assuming the copies i saw in waterstones were some britain-wide conspiracy'

'wonky textspeak'

' I guess it looks like what broadsheet journalism likes to believe novels are'

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:44 (five years ago) Permalink

ah, 'I also saw a mixed review somewhere serious'.

Fizzles, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:44 (five years ago) Permalink

I dunno, enjoying the title as it stands, above all "that the computer had come with"

woof, Friday, 9 March 2012 14:53 (five years ago) Permalink

xpost - yes! that was the other option of the 4g data plan thing. 'Ok, I can't write any other way, i'll put this in the mouth of a buffoon' making the best of a bad job.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 16:39 (one week ago) Permalink

Thursday (continued)

wtf are you kidding me JL.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 16:39 (one week ago) Permalink

i'm gonna guess he gets eaten by a vampire at the end

not raving but droning (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 7 January 2018 16:43 (one week ago) Permalink

there's another couple of paras where he complains about a female sociologist (again) and says 'however, the idiotic, like the poor, are always with us'. the problem with sentences like these is that I'm sure who he's supposed to be laughing at. because the effect, as with the constant appearance of female sociologists to complain about, is to suggest readers nodding in recognition at the strawman dislikes he presents.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 16:49 (one week ago) Permalink

then discreetly plugged in my faithful friend, selected Dawkins’s tract and awaited the familiar greeting:

Audible – audio that speaks to you.

The God Delusion

by Richard Dawkins

Chapter One

However fast I ran, however far I ran, I could not escape the figure pursuing me. Its speed never increased, its mode of locomotion never altered from its terrible, maimed, partially limbless slither. I ran and ran, but it never fell behind me, and as night fell, and my strength began to fail, I turned and looked, and saw to my horror that the shape was now closer than it had ever been. It was close enough that instead of a gasp or hiss, I could now tell it was trying to speak, to utter a single word. It repeated the word several times before, with a sensation of ice spreading through my body, I realised what it was trying to say:

‘Listen … listen … ’

I've got a horrible feeling the 'moral' of this story will be that he is punished for not listening to people.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 16:54 (one week ago) Permalink

quick xpost to Chinaski. i do think, to try and be as fair as possible to Lanchester, he's deliberately not aiming for poetry or rhythm. this prose is to a certain extent his vision of the world - prosaic, lacking in conspicuous beauty or romantic notions of awe and the sublime. i don't think that has to mean that your prose is so club-footed or syntactically cross-eyed. successful humour is completely absent. it's a notoriously hard thing to do of course. but he does feel the need to *try* all the time.

And I mean there is intended parody in this story, but the intended stuff is all very bad. and the rest of the stuff that is all very bad isn't parody.

i think you are being too subtle for lanchester by observing (correctly) the undead nature of the prose and linking it to the subject matter. unfortunately too much of what is bad here is also bad in /Capital/.


wrt this & other recent posts about the style and what it might be shooting for and missing: is he basically trying and failing to be Irish?

very stabbable gaius (wins), Sunday, 7 January 2018 16:59 (one week ago) Permalink

Thursday (continued)

...

The following is what happened next.

I'm going to do JL the favour of assuming that *has* to be deliberate. The problem is it's fairly close to some of his other möbius strip sentences.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:00 (one week ago) Permalink

xpost to wins - no i don't think so. i think he's aiming for the flat, affectless prose you get in some 20th century writing. Remainder would be one example. Flatmate suggested Gertrude Stein's manner (which W Lewis referred to as the 'Stein stuffer', which influenced early Hemingway, and via him (always bizarre this to me) some of the UK's 20th Century humorists. You can also take it via Hemingway into Raymond Carver, say.

The specific humour he's aiming for, I think, relies on a reader who is both self-consciously knowing, but actually socially purblind. It's the sort of thing.. i'm trying to get it straight in my head, but you get it in conversations at work. It's effectively relying on social and observational cliches for your conversation and humour. The dentist is always something to be feared, buses never come singly etc - there's a sort of non-directional irritation and cynicism at play that completely lacks imagination.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:06 (one week ago) Permalink

That makes sense - was just a passing thought re a kind of deliberate parodic bumptiousness

very stabbable gaius (wins), Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:13 (one week ago) Permalink

it's reasonable, and 'parodic bumptiousness' is right, but i guess i'm not quite sure what 'Irish' would equate to here – obv Myles, but this is not that. none of the high flights of absurdity and enjoyment to be had. the narrator in this story is closer to an extremely moribund version of the Nabakov unreliable narrator, in Lolita, or The Real Life of Sebastian Knight say (or even Pale Fire.)

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:18 (one week ago) Permalink

I was thinking of myles yes, and some Beckett, and uhhh darraghmac lol

very stabbable gaius (wins), Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:22 (one week ago) Permalink

basically he goes through another couple of paragraphs slagging the conference and a moderator 'with hooped earrings' and then he puts his earplugs i to listen to the simultaneous translation feed. this despite him already having plugged in his earphones at the beginning of the paragraph.

I inserted my earphones into the conference radio apparatus and settled down to listen

then about 70 words later, with no intervening action:

The three Europeans were all talking simultaneously when I plugged in the earphones

i've got a little bit of sunday evening / pre-week tiredness, but considering that (the inevitable 'why?' 'how?' 'have i missed something?') has just produced enough anger to wake me up i can tell you. fuck i've made a cup of tea and not brought it in. hang on.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:24 (one week ago) Permalink

lol the holy trinity yes.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:25 (one week ago) Permalink

ha ha 'I inserted my earphones into the conference radio apparatus and settled down to listen'.

it's like the thread title aaaaaargghgh.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:28 (one week ago) Permalink

I've gone over a couple of JL reviews recently and have been on the alert to see whether any of this stuff has been called out at all. Just went to see whether Capital had been reviewed in the LRB - it hasn't interestingly, you'd've thought it wd've been. The most recently reviewed is Fragrant Harbour from 2002, which I got bought but haven't read (I thought it was factual), but this jumped out:

There are names within the novel, too, that Lanchester seems to have not quite worked out what to do with: it would be fine to give London’s newspapers aliases such as the Toxic, the Serious and the Sentinel, and it isn’t a bad joke, only it sounds slightly odd when the Mail and the Times and the Guardian are in there as well, with their normal names.

(it is a bad joke). this reminded me of something i noticed upthread in Capital:

"Besides, he had Sky Sports. The tackle which smashed Freddy's leg was shown, in the usual way, about ten times."

RONG.

Also, I don't understand Lanchester's methodology around nouns and proper nouns.

he has to refer to a 'west london club' but will also say 'Sky Sports' – and this isn't the only example of the oddly parallel or partially remembered universe he lives in. something Kasper Hauser-ish about it - like asking someone to recollect their society after they've suffered a brain lesion.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:44 (one week ago) Permalink

the generally trustworthy Nicholas Lezard's review of Mr Philips was also interesting:

I had my reservations about this one. Lanchester's previous and first novel, The Debt to Pleasure, I had left mostly unread; there was too much of an odour of Nabokov coming off the book. Still, reviewers loved it, and it won more prizes than I have space to mention. Now this novel is about its eponymous hero's thoughts and feelings as he wanders around London during the course of a single day. Mr Phillips is a reasonably kind-hearted, randy nonentity. What does that remind you of?

Sign up for the Bookmarks email
Read more
If nothing else, one could be impressed by Lanchester's sheer cheek. Lanchester, an intelligent and trustworthy critic himself, cannot be unaware of the possibility of comparison. What on earth could he have been thinking of, apart from, "I know - I'll write a book that isn't as good as Ulysses "?

Still, many critics, including our own, loved this book to bits as well. Adam Phillips, whose opinions on such matters I used to revere, said it was "exceptionally funny"; Allan Massie said its "comedy" was "rich and humane", which is at least a more honestly decipherable way of saying "the kind of comedy which does not actually make you laugh".

I should point out that there may well be something wrong with me that prevents me from finding it as hilarious as everyone else seems to. (I did laugh out loud on page 168.) There are people for whom The Diary of a Nobody is not a comedy but a heartrending, Chekhovian tragedy, a book that cannot be read without hyperventilating with painful compassion; I'm one of them. And this might be the case here. I suggest that you go to a shop and read a couple of its pages of flat, busted English (the prose is almost a textbook example of style indirecte libre), and if you like them, then buy the book: it's like that all the way through.

I, for my part, am suspicious of my own suspicion. It is the kind of book that may turn out to be very good after all, but whose qualities are only revealed after days, weeks, or even years of thinking about it.

So I may well be missing something here. It reads as if it took about two weeks to write; three, if we include some research on double-entry book-keeping to give Mr Phillips's past as an accountant some plausibility.

I haven't read Mr Phillips either. it's interesting that Lezard (this 18 years ago) has the same uncertainty and suspicion of himself that is characteristic of approaching Lanchester today. Everyone else seems to like him, and he gets published, so it must be me, sort of thing. But he has at least two or three otm points there - the sort of comedy that doesn't make you laugh, the flat, busted English, and the sense that it must have been written quickly without much attention.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 17:51 (one week ago) Permalink

here's a pure bit of lanchester doing horror writing (mainly trying to channel MR James) - haven't read it yet, but i'm interested to see how he approaches it (btw just in case the description of him doing it twice in the paragraph wasn't enough, he's plugged into the conf translation feed):

I reached my lodging with my lungs bursting and my heart racing, unable to draw a full breath or think a clear thought. I do not believe that any man could have outpaced me through those streets. I tried to take comfort from that thought even as my mind wrestled with the impossible horror it had seen and heard. I found that it was difficult even to speak my own name. I am Pip Gargery, I said, or tried to say, but my mouth was so dry I could form no intelligent sentence.

And then I heard a noise, a noise I had never heard before and hope never to hear again. It was a noise of a body moving along the ground, propelling itself with audible effort. The lower part of the torso was wet and so the thing (I will not call it a man, though it seemed as though it had once been human), as it moved, made a slithering, sucking noise. It was a sound similar to a heavy man wearing waders and walking through thick mud. I felt an overwhelming sense of cold, not merely inside my veins, but as if all the air in the room was suddenly blowing with the coldest of north winds. The slithering, sucking, mucilaginous noise grew closer and louder and then as it came to the door there was a pause. The silence lasted for a few seconds. I hoped that the creature’s strength had failed. Then I heard its crying hiss, louder than ever, through the wooden frame that stood between us.

‘ … listen … listen … ’

The noise, terrible in itself, was followed by an abrupt crash. The thing had flung itself against the door, which shook and rattled and seemed set to give way.

‘ … listen … listen … ’

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:02 (one week ago) Permalink

"crying hiss" is sheer class

not raving but droning (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:04 (one week ago) Permalink

lol that 'audible effort' is unfortunate as we've all been primed to expect 'propelling itself with the audible app that comes on my smartphone' by now.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:04 (one week ago) Permalink

ha ha 'crying hiss' omg. he really does just put down words without thinking what thing they are trying to put in your brane doesn't he?

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:05 (one week ago) Permalink

also, it's not clear whether he's supposed to be channelling pip or himself. pip is (just about) 'sound similar to a heavy man wearing waders and walking through thick mud', 'mucilaginous' is not.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:06 (one week ago) Permalink

'through the wooden frame that stood between us'

was he frightened of saying 'door' again? he's not generally conspicuously averse to repetition normally. you can say door more than once ffs. it's what it is.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:09 (one week ago) Permalink

which shook, rattled, and seemed set to give way

really shouldn't put 'shook' and 'rattled' together like that unless you do want people to infer it's JL Lewis doing a 'you keep on knocking but you can't come in' turn.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:11 (one week ago) Permalink

The lower part of the torso was wet and so the thing (I will not call it a man, though it seemed as though it had once been human), as it moved, made a slithering, sucking noise.

AGAIN, 'as it moved' is in the wrong place, and directly after those cumbersome brackets as well. i think he must have originally written ' the lower part of the torso was wet and so the thing made a slithering, sucking noise', felt there was ambiguity, and attempted to *forestall* the ambiguity, rather than understanding how to write the sentence so it made decent sense.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:14 (one week ago) Permalink

he rushes out of the conference hall.

I had no choice except to get out of that room as soon as I physically could

this is something people say, so i'm probably being unfair here. but does physically *really* need to be there? its presence makes you think of what ambiguity he's trying to avoid, and so you end up exploring that as well. he does this a lot.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:18 (one week ago) Permalink

anyway he's locked himself in his room and is flying home tomorrow, so imagine all will be well...

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:18 (one week ago) Permalink

guess what! he can't sleep. shit. i hope something bad doesn't happen. first, some laboured shit in case you hadn't really got what was going on:

I can understand having accidentally downloaded a corrupted version of Great Expectations, and I can understand how a bug in the Audible app might have overridden the subsequent purchase and download of a different ebook, and I can just about conceive that an ill-meaning hacker, one of the several people at this conference who dislike me and my ideas, might have tapped into the audio stream from the translators’ studio, but I cannot conceive how all these things could have happened to me in sequence, even in the most well-resourced and co-ordinated of conspiracies.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:23 (one week ago) Permalink

And now, another persistent after-effect of the day, is that in the settling noises of the sleeping hotel, I seem to be hearing things. It is as if, among the noises of people bidding one another goodnight, trudging up the stairs and down corridors, closing doors and curtains and running taps and flushing toilets, there is another sound, quiet at first but growing louder. It is as if I can hear the movement of a body which is not running or walking or crawling but instead – there is no other word for it – sucking and slithering along the floor. It was a faint noise when I first put out the light but, in the intervals of quiet when the other hotel noises die down, it seems to grow louder. It appears to be coming closer. Now for the first time I can hear other noises beside the muddy traction of a body along the floor, a hiss, or a noise of escaping air, which is, unless I am overinfluenced by what I was hearing earlier today, just possible to make out as a word:

‘ … listen … listen … ’

omg no way.

'the muddy traction of a body along the floor' tho

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:24 (one week ago) Permalink

I have double-locked the door and put the chair against it, with its weight against the handle. Nothing is getting in that way tonight. And yet the slithering is getting louder, and the cry of ‘listen’ is getting louder too, and all along I can’t help feeling that this is bad, this is very very bad, this is rău, rău!, there is nothing I can do to stop this, listen, listen, it is coming it is coming it is co

(yes that's where the main narrative ends).

this is rău, rău

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:27 (one week ago) Permalink

ah but!

Notes by Dr Frances Scott

Director of Acute Inpatient Mental Health Services, Maudsley Hospital

The preceding document was found on the desk of a 58-year-old man, Professor Merritt Watkins, who is now a patient in my care.

oh yeah that last bit was part of the diary too wasn't it? lol at him writing in his diary right up until the last minute while the rău-rău stuff was going down.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:28 (one week ago) Permalink

and it was all a dream

not raving but droning (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:29 (one week ago) Permalink

i think Dawkins might have a case for libel here maybe

not raving but droning (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:29 (one week ago) Permalink

Professor Watkins has been my patient for three months. He responds to sedation but not to other forms of treatment and is docile for much of the time but is still prone to visual and auditory hallucinations. As sudden onset psychotic illnesses go, it is an unusually abrupt and fully developed case but not an unprecedented one. The prognosis is guarded to poor.

i'm assuming that last bit - 'guarded to poor' - is a thing that doctor's say. 'guarded' seems a bit weird. 'i am being guarded in what I say' yes, but a medical prognosis? don't feel lanchester wd get this wrong tho.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:31 (one week ago) Permalink

hahaha I had thought the previous bit was the end

#TeamHailing (imago), Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:32 (one week ago) Permalink

fucking hell the end bit really veers off into wtf territory.

One symptom in this case is, to my knowledge, unique. The professor, however heavily sedated, cannot bear to be in the presence of any kind of paper with writing on it. This psychosis immediately had the most florid manifestations. His symptom is triggered by the merest fragment of script on a postcard, is worse with anything printed, and is unbearably acute whenever he catches a glimpse of a book. The staff here have to go to great lengths to avoid this happening, because the distress it induces in the patient is both intense and long-lasting. It manifests itself in one particular symptom: he puts his fingers in his ears and starts shouting. He always yells the same set phrases escalating in volume until he has to be restrained and forcibly sedated. ‘I can’t hear you,’ he shouts, as if to the book. ‘I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you. You are inaudible.’

so hang on. is this all a comment on audio books? that 'you are inaudible' is really making me pull a face.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:34 (one week ago) Permalink

whoomp there it is.

Here comes the phantom menace (ledge), Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:35 (one week ago) Permalink

really really bad.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:35 (one week ago) Permalink

that last bit is like drinking a disgusting cup of coffee.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:35 (one week ago) Permalink

it would disgrace a third rate tales of the unexpected

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:36 (one week ago) Permalink

i don't know if it's meant to be a moral, or a shaggy dog story punchline. Neither option stands up to any scrutiny.

Here comes the phantom menace (ledge), Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:36 (one week ago) Permalink

no exactly. it has the tone of both.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:37 (one week ago) Permalink

ghost stories and this sort of i'm going to say 'sly wit' but ykwim don't make for good bedfellows

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 18:38 (one week ago) Permalink

and it's interesting you mention Myles, wins, because i was reading some of O'Dolan's pre-Myles student stuff recently. and it's not really very much like his later stuff, relatively factual - actual student reporting - and fairly underdeveloped in terms of his later style, but it's still got it, whatever 'it' is. he's got a tense capable eye and a great ear.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 19:01 (one week ago) Permalink

regarding that 'door'/'wooden frame' thing (which implies that there is an *empty* wooden frame. one of the remarkable things about lanchester is the way he can be extraordinarily lazy in some respects but at other times really takes the long and laboured way round.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 19:04 (one week ago) Permalink

it's clearly meant to be a punchline (probably a moral too) but it's obviously not funny, or witty, or clever. its not even a pun of any kind.

Here comes the phantom menace (ledge), Sunday, 7 January 2018 19:28 (one week ago) Permalink

nothing about that end gestures towards anything in the story (sokal type meets count magnus). it’s just “u listened to an audiobook” and at the end he was just listening to the conference feed. nothing really precedes anything. capital was a bit like that too, and his sentences are scrambled by a parallel cause-effect problem.

Fizzles, Sunday, 7 January 2018 19:37 (one week ago) Permalink

Even ignoring everything else, as a straightforward James pastiche/homage it doesn't work. The monster itself doesn't do it for me - too clearly described or too gory? Not sure, this could be personal taste, I've never found anyone (e.g. Le Fanu) who can spook me like James. But the mechanism and the moral, these are confused and unclear. Is Vlad coming after our man because he was uncouth enough to do some 4g downloading in the presence of Vlad's grave, or because he is a smug & blinkered know-it-all? With James it would be one or the other (and unlikely the latter, his demons rarely have such fine grained morality, either being straightforwardly retributive, punishing the merely curious, or simply arbitrary). If the former, well, why? What is Vlad's problem with 4g? James doesn't always offer explanations like that but when he does they are usually clear & simple.

Here comes the phantom menace (ledge), Sunday, 7 January 2018 20:14 (one week ago) Permalink

It's got a strong whiff of Aickman about it, too - but where Aickman (and James) grant space and allow the unknown and the abject to invade and colonise, Lanchester seems to want to overpopulate - with daft gewgaws and pointless repetition.

The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums (Chinaski), Sunday, 7 January 2018 20:57 (one week ago) Permalink

I found my old GameCube at Christmas and keep reading "Listen" as Link's fairy.

Chuck_Tatum, Sunday, 7 January 2018 23:02 (one week ago) Permalink

This whole story belongs in Thog's Masterclass: http://thog.org/thogmatic.php

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Monday, 8 January 2018 08:47 (one week ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.