Crap blurbs – part one of a series

January 28, 2008

Or in this case, crap quote from review used as part of blurb. On the back of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon, is the following excerpt from Philip Hensher’s Spectator review –

Very grand and mad and beautiful… I can’t remember having reviewed a more original novel … and if America produces a novel to come near this marvellous, proliferating thing this decade, I promise to eat it.

While we’re on the subject, I lost my copy of Mason and Dixon a while ago. (On a camping trip? Is that possible?) So in order to check the Hensher quote, I popped into my local friendly stationers, also known as Waterstones, and located a copy. What the fuck have they done to the cover?

Same with all his books. If I can’t find an original paperback copy, I’m going to have to do what I did with the Penguin Classics version of Lucky Jim and also the Arden second series edition of Othello and rip the front cover off.

The latter depicted the noble Moor as a sort of bewildered chocolate cake and would have been incredibly offensive were it not for the memorable ineptitude of all the second series covers, composed by some group of high grade mental defectives calling themselves the…

This is very exciting. I couldn’t remember what they were called, so I went trawling on the internet, and via this slightly loopy question and answer, discovered that they were the rather sinister sounding Brotherhood of Ruralists. They’ve got their own website!

[this initially linked to the website, but some brainless fanny made it link to a pr0n site somehow – I’ve now taken the link down]

Further researches have led me to believe that one Graham Arnold is responsible for the Othello front cover. I still can’t find an image of it anywhere though, so it isn’t possible to pin the blame firmly on him yet. In the meantime his biographical page provides a fascinating insight into the life of an artist –

Moved to Shropshire, 1986
Falls from ladder – breaks shoulder, 1987
Visits Umbria (Italy), 1992

In between was presumably when he went metnal wit da choklit kake init.

Next week, Second Leg – Jocelyn Brooke reviews MY juvenile poetic output…

January 26, 2008

Jocelyn Brooke’s poetry…

Stop right there, a stray person accidentally reading this might say, why start with his poetry? Why start at the obscure end of an already slightly obscure figure?

Circumstance, I’m afraid. I’ve got his two volumes of poetry, December Spring (1946) and The Elements of Death (1952) next to me, and they’ve got to go back to the library soon.

As I’ve already said elsewhere, I’m not really very good at poetry, having a bit of a tin ear and tending to like stuff that people have shown me how to like, rather than having that natural feel for The Singing Line that enables the best critics to pick a single jewel out of a load of dross.

Still, we can only use the tools we’ve got…

(Rather long again, I’m afraid; my only excuse being that there’s very little on his poetry anywhere as far as I can tell, and while I’m hardly qualified to produce anything definitive, this may at least provide some grist to put to the mill of any future thoughts or discussions.)

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A couple of things to read before returning to fantasies of Tommy gunning down your colleagues

January 25, 2008

Being at work isn’t really compatible with posting trenchant entries on literature; no brilliant 10,000 word close analysis of Wyndham Lewis’s Childermass today, you’ll be disappointed to learn. 

Just a quick nod, then, at a couple of things that should help distract from the agonising quotidian boredom and inutile hatred engendered by spreadsheets, and emails marked urgent.

Look! Journal to Stella on the internet! OK, so it’s a bit of a mess at the moment, but I’m sure it will all be cleaned up soon and, with the Diary of Samuel Pepys, should form an essential part of anyone’s morning reading. I usually find that entering their daily grind is a welcome distraction from mine.

Surely it can’t be just me that warms to Swift’s servant Patrick rather more than the Dean at times? All that whingeing.

And fuck M&S’s Christmas campaign; I’m shopping here from now on –

 Harris’s Handbill

There are no pictures at the house of contempt

January 22, 2008

In the interests of scrupulous honesty and a desire not to get done, as it was termed at school, I ought to point out that the banner is by Primaticcio and was lifted from this excellent but now sadly defunct site and that in general I will use images wantonly without any reference to copyright laws. This on the principle that I don’t really believe anyone who finds their way here will give a tinker’s cuss.


If interested parties object in any to the use of any of the images appearing on these pages then I will, grumblingly, take them down.

The Reader is Warned

January 22, 2008

The problem with attempting to widen your reading is that you force yourself to plough through an awful lot of rubbish. Rather like eating your greens, if you consulted your soul the sincerity of your distaste would not be in doubt, yet you struggle on, telling yourself that it is Doing You Good.

There is a cheerful aspect to this abnegation of will however: it is the feeling of freedom and joy you have when you cast aside acid drivel like Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hour Glass (more of which another day) and decide that you will read another locked room mystery by John Dickson Carr.

cheerful dickson carr
Calm yourselves, ladies

In fact, even after reading something completely and unexpectedly wonderful like Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight (more of which another day), you might find yourself rubbing your hands cheerfully and, perhaps with a slightly guilty twinge… reaching for the Dickson Carr.

One the writers from the golden era of detective stories, he has become for me a minor obsession. It got to the stage last year where I became horrified at the rapidity with which I was flying through his books; soon there would be none left, I exclaimed: I needed to ration myself. Yet, like a backsliding drug addict, there I would be the next day, pretending that I was amongst the Cs and Ds in the library because I fancied a stroll, a change of scene, a breath of fre… what’s this? The Case of the Constant Suicides? Interesting. Might as well get it out now, shame to put it back on the shelf  – that sort of thing. Then I’d take it home and put it (not very far) aside and tell myself sternly that I was currently reading Locke on perception and the chain of being or Ehrenpreis on Swift, hardly arduous in themslves, in fact perfectly enjoyable, and that I would never finish them if I could so easily be tempted to throw aside their profounder pleasures at the first come hither glimpse of a flighty, gaudily bedecked crime and detection novel…

Of course, all was lost the moment the second I had read one of the irresistable titles: The Hollow Man, The Ten Teacups, Murder in the Submarine Zone, The Blind Barber, The Burning Court, He Who Whispers, The Reader is Warned, Death in Five Boxes, Hags Nook, The Man Who Could Not Shudder…

Poetry, sheer irresistable poetry.

I would then tell myself that I would only read a chapter a night at most, in order to draw out the pleasure – like Charlie with his chocolate bar – before shamelessly devouring it whole at one sitting, cramped up uncomfortably on one elbow in bed, scorching the corners of the pages with hasty fingertips, only turning the last of them, its words barely registering, as the first birds began their petulantly early squawking.

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Brooke – no, not THAT one… or THAT one… THIS one

January 21, 2008

What are you reading?

Jocelyn Brooke.


That pretty much sums up what happens when you mention the author that mysterious and enchanting mid-20th century masterpiece The Image of a Drawn Sword – even assuming the person who you’re talking to has some pretensions to literary knowledge. It certainly would have been my response until recently. Like much of his writing, Brooke’s reputation seems to have inhabited a fog-bound, liminal world, cut off from this one, gesturing towards but never achieving fulfilment –

…the focal centre of that land remains
Unstable, undefined; the pathways cross
And recross, the landmarks shift, and in the evening
The mist like an infection creeps
Through the drenched thicket,…


The privacy and quietude of his life have persisted beyond his allotted span and into the digital age; his scant ghost barely even troubling the supposedly infinite library of the internet. His self-declared futilitariansim has become self-fulfilling prophecy; like those who hold themselves back at parties, Brooke has been taken at his sardonic, slightly self-deprecating word and is ignored. It seems probable that he is better remembered among the botanical community than the literary one – his lifelong interest in orchids made him slightly more than an amateur expert.

There have been attempts at rehabilitation – Anthony Powell was a sympathetic spirit – but these  seem to have failed. There have been reprints, but they haven’t stuck; his brief flowerings have been too delicate to last.

Good job then that those eagle-eyed clerks over at The Midnight Bell have over their lunchtime pints given him the nod, with optimistic prognostications as to future reprints.

Here’s to that.

God I want a beer…

Is it too early?


Anyway – I want to write a LOT MORE on Brooke, but personal experience teaches me that I don’t read anything over a certain length on a computer screen and it seems wrong to burden potential readers with expectations of tenacity and concentration that I am not myself capable of fulfilling. I shall save it for another entry.

The Idiot and the Dog

January 19, 2008

I was going to write a long introductory statement of belief about literature, but realised this was completely pointless, any such statement requiring so much unwarranted assertion and counter-assertion that it sinks under the weight of accumulated sub-clauses and impedimenta.

However, I think it’s worth pointing out that I was stung into action by this article and a general preponderance towards this sort of thing on the web.

 “…the tyranny of turning the pages”? 

If you feel like that, read a dictionary; I recommend the 1973 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles: the zebra did it, as the old joke goes.

The Idiot and the Dog is also intended as an account of the return to wider reading that I started last year. For various reasons I felt that I had become narrow in my tastes, only picking up what I already knew I wanted to read. So I decided to start exploring again – a tyro wanderer, stick in hand (to swipe away nettles and aid in the negotiation of arduous routes), with my critical dog beside me, leashed but not muzzled.

The idiot and dog combination has another advantage, it being the case that a man out for a solitary walk in the country may idly speculate aloud to his dog about all manner of things, despite the lack of an audience, without his peremptory judgements and casual observations attracting undue attention or censure from passers by.

The idiot part? Well, let’s just say that my ignorance precedes me; I’ve a tendency to make hasty and ill-informed judgements, which I later realise are, even in an age of critical relativism, totally wrong; I frequently mistake trite sentiment for profound emotion and am inclined to find the profound pretentious and dull; also, and most regrettably in my opinion, I’ve got a tin ear when it comes to poetry, so that any judgements of quality in that sphere are often a matter of educated guesswork.