Lucio Ganzini and the Publishers (Part Two)

[Part One]

Perhaps I should say more about Ganzini’s relatively futile career. Fifteen years ago he wrote a novel, In Play, in which he attempted to cast himself as the ‘Pinter of Prose’; developing a theory of writing revolving around concepts of time. ‘Every sentence runs on from another,’ he wrote: ‘but supposing it didn’t? What if sentences were suspended from one another? What if we learned to read space as well as we read words?’ A fair point, perhaps, but Ganzini struggled to find a plot worthy of his ideas. He fought fiercely with publishers over his right to create books crammed with empty pages, failing to see that a large proportion of their resentment lay not in his revolutionary methods, but in a basic paucity of talent. He had the ideas, but not the ability to see them through. The ‘Ganzini Gap’ (his answer to the famous ‘Pinter Pause’) was, it seemed, no more than a gimmick.

His experiences with In Play shaped his critical writing. From here on in he took on the publishers with all his might, constantly bombarding them with ever more ridiculous ideas – and castigating them for their lack of foresight. As he writes in the memoirs, ‘I quickly gathered that there was no significant outlet for obscure European literature. Even the most consciously “different” publishing houses – Georgy Riecke’s Upside-Down-Then-Backwards, for example – showed themselves unwilling to experiment’. Once again, Ganzini is unable to perceive the possibility that there was a problem with his prose – and not with the publishing houses. I personally turned down his third novel (the turgid semi-autobiographical Ratt) on account of its sheer dullness, not its strange use of punctuation, cut pages and large swathes of blank space. I had – and have – nothing against his approach, only his style.

And yet I must confess to enjoying these memoirs. Why I can’t quite say. Perhaps it is the unabashed confidence of the fellow, or the amusing way that, every time he attempts to tackle a serious subject, he merely slides, like a child on a snow-slope, into the dirty white valley of banality. Ultimately I find myself admiring his unconscious refusal to grow beyond a stereotype: his resolute two-dimensionality. If someone had created him as a character, we’d be booing from the stalls. Appearing as a real person, however, he is quite brilliant. In his memoirs, he has created his best work of fiction. The great Ganzini, revealed to the full extent of his idiocy, is an unintentionally charming creature.

A little uneasiness remains. The book is, as noted, something of a raging howl against modern publishing. Though I don’t blame anyone for dismissing Ganzini, there is nothing essentially wrong with a book that castigates this rotten old market. And yet we must return to the fact that the book itself, unlike Ganzini’s fiction, has not only been accepted by a major publishing house (The Olive Press), but produced at some expense, with a prize-winning cover by artist Paulo Sigel and soft creamy paper within. Has it taken a foul-mouthed attack on publishers to get him properly published? He calls throughout the book for more writers to turn to self-publishing, only to eschew it himself. What is going on here? Seen as such, the whole book is self-defeating: the literary experimentation for which he fights throughout is nowhere to be seen; brushed aside, as if non-fiction doesn’t require similarly bold tactics. Ganzini emerges, meanwhile, as the extraordinary man he’s always thought he was. Extraordinarily idiotic, not extraordinarily great, though it’s fair to say that it’s more his loss than ours: Ganzini is a lovable kind of fool, after all.

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