‘As they get older, male novelists tend to mistake all honesty for sexual honesty, masking their natural leaning towards lurid subjects with the desire to break boundaries of literary taste’ (Jave de Lasse)
‘”Insufferable, insensitive, inconceivably successful”. This is all Javé de Lasse had to say about the young German novelist, Alan B Wightche – other than to ponder whether or not the B stood for Beelzebub. He was, of course, way off the mark. The B stands for Benedict. As for the rest, well, he was pretty much on the ball. Although one does wonder why de Lasse came to the conclusion that Wightche’s success was unfathomable. Has not the work of certified idiots always done relatively well in the modern marketplace?’
I propose that book shops be split into two tiers or classes: shops that sell books and establishments that house literature. There are too many books in the world, this we know – not enough literature. The first kind of book shop will be a warehouse, situated I care not where. The second kind will be a cosy townhouse in the heart of a small city. Save me an armchair, I’ll be there in a tick (Jave de Lasse, Manifesto 2010)
I see Jave de Lasse is angry again. Always good news, even if he is repeating himself…
‘I am a master marble sculptor. I create a vast, furious block of text; a woolly mammoth of mighty words; a large and heavy mountain of narrative. Then I rest awhile, bewildered by this huge hulk of ideas; this thick wall of thoughts. First I am a gnat on a pumpkin, a tadpole swimming in a lake. Then I am a wasp on a pear, a frog squatting on a lily-pad. I ease, slowly, into a position of control. Lo, now I am Michelangelo, stone-carving tools thrust into my firm hands, the spirit of genius burning within my breast. My ego thumps like the tail of an over-excited dog. I can bend anything to any shape. I can breathe life into this dull and daunting form. I am the very dragon of creativity. I will chip and charge into beauty’s warm hole. I will break, like the consummate burglar, into the core of my text. Into the thick of the literary battle I go, pick-axe wielding, flint flying around my ears, the stony edifice crumbling before my sure and able touch. The words fall around me, but I am resolute. Watch me closely: I do not lose my nerve. I am a master miner. I will not stop before I find myself, standing proud, at the heart of this here mound; until the very essence of the object has been caressed by all two of my tough thumbs. I am a man of action; rocket, rock and ram. But my final touch, my final touch is smooth. When the main hunk of the marble has collapsed, and the soft beating soul is seen, I am again a tender craftsman. Roughness slips from me like the model’s gown. I am a cake-maker, an ivory-carver and a golf-green keeper. My fingers are alert, agile, lithe and lissom. They do not miss a single move. No petal is too delicate. No curl or curve, no wisp or line. I am there; I am on every ball there ever was, is, and will ever be. I am a master: a master marble sculptor’ (Walter Snow)
Good old Walter Snow: one of the best writers I know when it comes to describing the creative process. As a novelist, of course, he was nothing less than rotten – by no means the ‘master marble sculptor’ he claimed to be. Every one of his fourteen novels, the critics will agree, was a trite, insubstantial, chaotic piece of nonsense. But when he turned his attention to the process of writer, well: then his style took on a whole new force. Progress, his 1976 guidebook for writers (known in the business as ‘Snow’s Progress’) is, for instance, a strangely wonderful work. Somehow, when it came to writing about writing, Snow’s creativity knew no bounds. He flowed like a river in a storm. Returning to the writing itself, the power diminished: he went back to where he started – to a sad, trickling stream. As Jave de Lasse once put it, ‘the man who thought he was a master marble sculptor was, in fact, a master minor artist’. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, made him a rather good critic: a pity he was never really aware of it.
From an early essay by Jave de Lasse:
Difference springs from ignorance. Just as racial or religious hatred is fuelled by a naive fear of the unknown, so too is the dislike of certain art forms. The man who sayeth: ‘I hate romantic fiction’ knows not the subject of which he talks. Maybe he is scared of it. Maybe he hasn’t yet got around to it. All we can say is that he doesn’t know it – and that is why he doesn’t like it. If he did know it – as well as he knows, for instance, ghost stories – we can be sure that he would love it. For all that is known can, nay will, be loved. Only the lazy critic trades in hates.
Postscript: Ten years later and, yes, Jave de Lasse trades in hates like the best of us. On the plus side, he’s also stopped writing ‘sayeth’.
In his comment to the post below, Javé de Lasse points me in the direction of the ‘demented kitten’ chapter of his torpid novel Declining Bore, wherein I may discover the previously undiscovered fictionalised portrait of myself.
Here follows a quick precis of what occurs in this chapter (no.8 for those who are interested): James (the hero) and Mary Potter (i.e. Peggy Grounter) rescue a kitten from the hands of a dirty gypsy. Like a lot of things in the novel, it is never made clear why they do this, but that’s just how it goes. In any case, the kitten soon lives up to its tag – and runs riot around the office, weeing on proof copies, vomiting in the photocopier, dragging in a family of half-dead ducklings (from where? again, it isn’t clear), biting a famous writer’s hand and (I quote) ‘mewing gutturally’. They plan to kick the kitten out, but it decides to leave of its own accord, not before depositing a small pile of poo on James’ perversely tidy desk.
I’ll be straight about this: I shared office space with de Lasse and Grounter for a few years and – though I may, at times, have been an enthusiastic colleague – I never once excreted any sort of substance on a book/desk, or mauled a duckling, or bit a writer on the hand. And though I struggle to imagine what a ‘guttural mew’ is, I’m almost certain it isn’t something I’m in the habit of producing.
As for vomiting in the photocopier, I was very ill at the time (and I resent the use of ‘in’ – it was rather more ‘on’).
I mentioned an interview he gave, but did I mention that Jave de Lasse has written a novel?
And yet ’tis so. Another critic has succumbed to the deadly temptation to practise what they preach – with typically poor results. Which is not to say that Declining Bore is the worst novel I’ve read this millennia, but that it remains, all things told, a mediocre mound of lazy tawdry nonsense. And when I say lazy I mean, of course, that it is not really a novel at all; simply a cack-handed reworking of de Lasse’s life. Weird, then, that it doesn’t work. A set of memoirs might have been welcomed with (partially) open arms. But in trying to boil everything down into a novel de Lasse has lost the flavour of it all.
Still, for someone who knows de Lasse, there are a handful of interesting passages. Take this description of Mary Potter on page 36:
She looked like someone had put too much baking powder in the mix, allowing her to rise quite out of proportion; her doughy breasts forever tumbling and bubbling out of the habitual blouse. It was bad enough as it was, but in the summer they seemed to get still larger. Was the cake still cooking?
One does not have to be Sam Spade to recognise in this a portrait of my (and de Lasse’s) former colleague Peggy Grounter. Not an especially winning portrait, I must say, but a fairly accurate one (and once you’ve read his portrayal of his ex-wife, you’ll agree that Mary Potter comes out of the book pretty well).
Seeing as my ex-colleague appears in his novel – and that the book is, essentially, a reworking of his life – some readers may be wondering: do I feature? The answer to this is that, as far as I can tell, I don’t. Of course, de Lasse and I aren’t as close as we used to be; although this might have given him the perfect opportunity to get back at me. And yet I search in vain (and with no small relief) for a character resembling me.