Literary Lightweights and Lazy Eyes

In this week’s Groping for Allusions, the inimitable Peggy Grounter casts her sharp (but ever so slightly lazy) eye over Fjona Uu’s The Brontesaurus Sisters.

This is not, in itself, an especially interesting fact. But it concerns me, nonetheless, particularly as I am mentioned, in passing, near the beginning of the article.

‘Plowing his lonely furrow in one of the internet’s many empty fields’, sayeth the mighty Peggy, ‘Mr Riecke plays up to an invisible crowd by entertaining the notion that Uu, by “mashing” together two or more literary genres, has thrown herself into the company of lesser writers. This, of course, is nonsense’.

Fair enough. But pray tell us why, Miss Grounter, this is nonsense. ‘It is immediately clear to any reader that Uu is no literary lightweight – and that this novel, like her previous work, confronts history with a wicked grin, concealing a fierce, admirably determined intent to bruise, maim and destroy.’

Interesting. A little strong, perhaps, but I admire your passion. And I agree, indeed, with the central point. Uu is not a literary lightweight. Nor did I ever say she was. For as you yourself note, I merely ‘entertained’ a notion; a notion that was not, as you seem to think, that Uu is a mere fashionable ‘mash-up’ artisté, but that Uu may run the risk of being seen as one, not by conscientious readers such as you and I, but by those less fortunate than ourselves. I was referring, you see, to those who may not have read Uu’s work before; to those who judge books according to their titles – and who, thus, may quite understandably come to the conclusion that a novel called The Brontesaurus Sisters is not, as you would have it, an ‘high-octane, heavily intellectual assault on man and mankind’.

Funny that you, my dear Peggy, cannot understand the mindset of such a person, seeing as you so clearly have a bit (if not a lot) of them in yourself. After all, you obviously thought you knew what I was saying before bothering to read what I actually was saying.

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I, Demented Kitten?

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’).

Declining Bore

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.

Black Hair

Demi-semi regular readers may be aware that, though I profess to exploring a wide range of obscure literature, there are certain murky territories into which I rarely allow my ancient feet to wander. Just as I have always preferred cream to crime, and chicken-farming lit to chick-lit, so the ‘horror genre’ is another of those holes in the ground into which I will not deign to crawl.

It’s not that I’m not, in my way, an annual subscriber to the dark side. After all, many would consider me a world expert on suicide-related novels – not to mention the fact that a fair few of the folk tales I study (see here, for instance) bare the horrendous spots of the scare-mongerer. Despite this, blessed is the patient fool who waits around in bookstores in the hope of seeing me pick up a tale of ‘horror and suspense’. Blessed and rare: for of all the things I do in bookstores (and I’m not averse, I will say, to the odd stroll through the teenage and toddler sections) this counts amongst the the least likely sights you shall ever see. Perhaps the best way to put it is that I deal with horror quite happily when faced with it – but I do not go so far as to seek it out.

Yesterday, however, I am proud to said that I read straight through, twice, a story that (so the spine informs me) falls firmly into the horror bracket. It was a gift (aka peace offering) from Peggy Grounter – and came with her cautious recommendation (indeed, a greasy thumbprint on p.58 – and again on p. 119 – suggests she read the same copy).

Black Hair, it is called, and it is written by a man going by the name of Viktor Kesserman (previous works include Quiet Pastures, An Empty Sky and Whither the Sourpuss Treads With Lonely Toes). The story itself contains more suspense, I would say, than horror, which is to say that there is a disturbing lack of decapitations and clowns. The enemy is, in fact, a very quiet one, consisting as it does of faintly threatening strands of hair (though these could be said to form, in the minds of our protagonist, a character of far greater ferocity).

A Swedish, thoroughly blond-haired couple, live alone amongst the tall rolling hills. They own no pets; they hide no secret lovers. So why is it that long black hairs keep appearing in their broth? Where are they coming from? Will the battle to discover the truth break their marriage apart?

Employing simple means, Kesserman does well to keep his readers tied into the plot, channeling the spirit of Ionesco to produce the kind of story for which the word ‘disquieting’ was invented. This is, in short, the sort of tale that tiptoes like a ballerina beneath one’s epidermis; silently worming its way into one’s mind, to the extent that one shivers for hours when your eyes fall upon a single strand of hair: black, blond, or, in my case, grey.

Our Bits

‘You’d be better off marrying a streaker, I said. I mean, he’d only be taking his own clothes off in public – whereas a writer goes and strips the clothes off himself and every one he knows. Come on people, he says, come and ‘av a gander at our bits..’
(Peggy Grounter, Pot-bellied Heroes)