The Name of the Novel (2)

Boris Yashmilye’s fourth novel, Out, Damned (reviewed here) takes its title, as you will know, from Shakespeare. Although the name seems obvious for those who know the content of the novel, Yashmilye was actually half way through the book before he thought of it. The original title? Puss Mountain. I do not lie.

Lucky for us, perhaps, that he turned to the bearded bard for inspiration. Or was it? Truth be told, Shakesperean allusions have been done to death when it comes to book titles, as a new study – My Kingdom for a Name: The Complete Concordance of Shakespearean Book-titles – reveals.

To say it is an interesting read would be, I confess, unfair. In the main, the very sight of the book sickens me. But, beneath the topsoil of trollop, a handful of intriguing facts can, yet, be unearthed.

Who knew, for instance, that Ik Nunn once wrote a novella named Give Me My Robe? Or that there are, on bookshelves somewhere, novels called He Wore His Beaver Up, Cudgel Thy Brains and, most curiously, The Elephant Hath Joints, But None for Courtesy? It is a strange world we live in, that the stray words of an Elizabethan playmonger should have provided a lucky dip for desperate novel namers. But so, it seems, they have. How else can one explain Marc Safferini’s Frozen Bosom of the North?

One book missing from this concordance is, of course, Egor Falastrom’s Beauty’s Tutor, which will be published later this year. The allusion in this case is, I believe, to Love Labour’s Lost. More interesting than that, however, is the fact that Falastrom has chosen to depart from a particularly lazy vein of book naming. His last three novels, you may remember, were called Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Further Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher and Still More Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher. Can we presume, therefore, that Beauty’s Tutor won’t feature his usual hero, the infamous dog-catcher? On the contrary, says his publicists: this book merely continues the series.

The rest is a bemused silence.

The Name of the Novel (1)

Following last week’s revelation that Boris Yashmilye’s second novel, The Musala Affair, went through forty-one different working titles, I have received much correspondence (well, two postcards), querying the availability of his discarded names and pondering whether his other novels (he has written five) went through similarly torturous titling trauma.

In response to the first of these wonderings, I can only say that I find it highly unlikely that Yashmilye has any sort of copyright over the forty-one unused names. Which is to say, should you wish to pen a novel yourself and give it the title The Snow in Summer Falls with Grace or, alternatively, A Tale of Toupees – you are most welcome. Raid the writer’s scrapbook, why not? (I might add that this is mere conjecture. In reality, copyright and I get on like Buddhist and a French chef, and any advice I give regarding its operations should be taken lightly, very lightly indeed).

As for the second issue, I have made some calls and come up with the following information. Yashmilye’s first novel, Flashes at Midnight had the same name from beginning to end. The same applies to his most recent offering, The Bastard. Interestingly, however, both titles have suffered greatly from translation. Flashes at Midnight, as I have long argued, ought to have been called Flashers at Midnight, whilst The Bastard would have made more sense had it been called The Mongrel.

Meanwhile, his third novel Nuts, Nuts, Nuts underwent just the single change. Right up until publication it was known as The Posthumous Experiments of Professor Neils Bohr, but – under publishing house pressure – it suffered a last minute change. Yashmilye claimed, later, that this was a deliberate move; fearing they’d never accept Nuts, Nuts, Nuts, he attempted to soften the effect by comparison. If this was the game he was playing, it worked. One suspects, however, that it was not.

Which leaves us with his fourth work, Out, Damned

(more on this later)

Is it? (Answer 9/9)

Question: Is it, when, and how much?

Answer: I will accept one of the following two answers: 1.) Yes it is, August, £4 a head, or 2.) It isn’t anywhere or anything. The only thing that is everywhere is nothingness. The world is a void and life is essentially pointless.

All questions have now been answered. May I extend my thanks to all those who entered this quiz, including those (numbering in the hundreds, no doubt) who chose to answer only in their heads (the act of typing being, as I know full well, a tremendous strain on one’s all-too-delicate fingers).

Normal (by which I mean, of course, abnormal) service will now resume.

Strange Bedfellows (Answer 8/9)

Question: ‘Catholicism and science fiction are not strange bedfellows, not in my book. As a child, I was barely able to tell them apart. I remember being shown a fifteenth century illustration of Gideon and the Fleece and thinking it was a still from the new Doctor Who. Having an angel appear to you and being abducted by an alien must be relatively similar experiences’. Who said this?

Answer: Ciambhal O’Droningham, of course.

More on him here. And here.

Cobra Roasting (Answer 6/9)

Question: Which humanity-hating Russian scribbler is said to have celebrated the publication of his second misery-drenched novel by roasting a cobra and sharing a bath of boiled skunk juice with a young pot-bellied pig?

Answer: It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the author in question is Pyetr Turgidovsky. It may surprise some, however, to hear that he denies the accusation. ‘Hate the world I do,’ he says, ‘but I’m not a Satanist. I have some taste’. One presumes he refers to the pot-bellied pig. The bit about roasting the cobra he accepts without any fuss, stating with pride that it was ‘the most detestable thing that has ever passed my lips’. Obviously he didn’t smear it with apple sauce first (which, as everybody knows, is a roasted cobra’s best friend).

For those who missed my thoughts on Turgidovsky’s second novel, you may find them here.

This One

Allow me, if you will, a brief pause from answering my own questions – during which I entreat you to visit places of equal charm, such as this one here.

[First person to find an image of Pyetr Turgidovsky sitting on a swan gets a hearty handshake]