DirtySpade Books, the distinctly average brains behind concepts such as Rabelais Remixed, Dickens in Da Hood and, most recently, Twenty-first Century Chekhov, have announced a new collection of stories based on the Arabian Nights. Arabian Afternoons, due in early April, promises ‘the usual roster of established and emerging literary talents engaging with and providing new perspectives on a classic text’.
Though I hate to shoot a bird before it has had a chance to fly, I can almost guarantee that this book will leave the reader with a distinctly bitter taste in their mouth. Granted, DirtySpade do have a strange habit of attracting interesting writers to their projects – Eusen Eöf, Fabio Muzakaki and Jean-Pierre Sertin all contributed to Twenty-first Century Chekhov – but it is hard to dodge the conclusion that these publications of theirs are essentially pointless, except in the sense that they remind us (should we need reminding) of the vast superiority of the texts from which they take their inspiration.
Perhaps the most unpleasant thing about the DirtySpade series of books is their suffocating knowingness. Half of the stories contained therein are slathered in irony. Idiotic winks ooze from between each self-conscious sentence. Some would call it ‘playfulness’ – and perhaps they are right. I’m inclined to call it the worst sort of childishness, reminiscent of the sort of wisecracks written by precocious prepubescent brats. I’m thinking of myself at about age twelve – surely the only period in my life in which I might have been amused by someone re-writing Chekhov’s The Kiss and calling it The Shag.
The full details of Arabian Afternoons have yet to emerge, but one doesn’t need the assistance of a soothsayer to have an idea of what to expect. I’ll be highly surprised if there isn’t a story entitled Scheherazade at the Shopping Mall – or an adaptation of Ali Baba in which the forty thieves work part-time at a gay cabaret. The original stories were, of course, more sexually charged than the slew of child-friendly version have given them credit for. Nevertheless, one can be sure that DirtySpade will have encouraged its contributors to do the near impossible and outdo the gloriously self-indulgent extravagance of the genuine article. To what end, one wonders? A messy one, I may predit.