Time and Underpants (or What Is It All About?)

To be typed into a search engine one day: Why do people insist on asking search engines questions they can’t possibly answer?

As long-time readers will be aware, search-terms fascinate me. There is a tendency for them to be either eccentric, banal, or both. Here, for instance, is a recent example:

what was the european novel about?

I can’t help thinking that this particular web-surfer has unrealistically high expectations. Like any tool, the internet will help you get a job done. It may provide the nails for you to build a cabinet – what it won’t do is assemble the cabinet all on its own.

Having said that, I am a kindly soul in a kindly mood, so here – for your immediate edification – is a brief answer to the question above:

Apes, abstinence, adventure, amorality, baguettes, bathos, bathrobes, Belgium, coiffure, coffee, combat, death, delinquents, delicatessens, eugenics, eternity, equivocation, France, farce, families, gigolos, Germany, glamour, hagiography, hesitation, heretics, Iceland, indoctrination, infants, jam, jounalism, jurisdiction, kissing, kleptomania, knives, light, life, love, machinery, masculinity, marmalade, nihilism, nostalgia, nouveau riche, old wives tales, oligopoly, onanism, paradise, pretence, politics, quarrels, quarantine, quattrocentro, rats, relics, retribution, sex, Scandanavia, seafaring, tea, testoterone, time, underpants, unification, uprooting, valuation, variation, vegetables, women, weaponry, weakness, xenophobia, xylophones, x-rays, yesterday, yogurt, Yugoslavia (former federal republic of), Zionism, zoophytes and zealots.

Yet More Naughty Monks

Those who continue to harp on tunelessly about the lack of sex in the contemporary obscure european novel will no doubt be interested to hear that, after some delays, Ciambhal O’Droningham’s new novel will be on selected bookstore shelves sometime within the next two weeks. Called Half-past Twelve at the Intergalactic Candy-Shop, it continues the story of Seamus O’Solly, star of earlier works such as The Dead Priest (reviewed here) and Anti-Gravity Cassocks (reviewed elsewhere, I daresay).

For those foolish enough never to have uncovered the facts, O’Solly is a monk sent out to work on a monastery on one of Jupiter’s moons in the distant future (c.2200, I believe). Religious at heart, O’Solly is on the surface somewhat of a over-sexed philanderer, ever-keen to try his luck with whichever many-breasted alien woman floats his way. For this reason, he has a tendency of falling out with the Catholic authorities – though his superb conversion-rate keeps them from ever pushing him into the abyss.

If the publicity material is to be trusted, Half-past Twelve at the Intergalactic Candy-Shop finds our hero ‘locked in mortal combat with the head of the Venus Moon infertility clinic’. The prose, meanwhile, is described by the mindless publishing-house drone as a ‘cross between Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and 50cent’. As these are all quite foreign reference points to me, I will not hover over them needlessly.

Needless to say that, unless you’re the type to get offended by saucy St. Agatha jokes, this novel is probably worth investigating.

Sex, Sex, Sex (in the Contemporary European Novel)

Contrary to my wife’s belief, the title of this post is not a crude net quickly knitted to fish for further visitors (though god knows I would welcome them, should they get caught).

In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a topic I have been avoiding – partly out of laziness, partly out of the presumption that there was no need to deal with it all. In any case, here I am at last: dealing with it – not because I am bursting out of my lethargic shell (it is December, after all) but because it happens to fit in neatly with my other subject for the week (which is, of course, the life and work of the Greek writer Alexis Pathenikolides). I need only to direct your attention to the quote two posts below for you to comprehend the nature of the link.

Here’s the rub, anyway. A bunch of unrelated rogues have claimed, lately, that my Greatest Novels List (already accused of neglecting the theme of religion) doesn’t give a fair impression of the way in which the subjects of sex and sexuality have obsessed European minds during the last decade or so.

Perhaps, perhaps. Maybe we haven’t plunged the depths of depravity, or oceans of bodily love, often enough. One supposes that, to give it its due, every novel should be suffused with sex. After all, have not  humans (well, men, anyway)  long been typified as helpless addicts to carnal thoughts? And true, if one looks hard enough, there is plently of huffing and puffing (imagined and actual) to be found between the covers of obscure European books.

So why have we gone ahead and ignored it?

Or, a better question, have we ignored it?

Pathenikoldies would be the obvious example, were it not for the fact that Sebastien Cheraz claims that he is an exception. Ah, but is he? Is The Twisted Olive Tree really the most sex-obsessed novel on the list? Allow me to crease my forehead at the very thought of it. Otters above! Have none of you read Boris Bash-Benver’s Tripulation, with its truly exhaustive sex scene, told from three different perspectives? And what of Egor Falastrom’s Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher? My prudish reviewer may not have mentioned them, but I distinctly recall some concupiscent chapters, passionate paragraphs and steamy sentences. And then we have O’Droningham’s randy monks… Well…

Am I stretching it a bit? Maybe I am. Perhaps you pedantic animals have a case. I’d said it before and I’ll say it again: there are omissions. Of course there are. That’s the fun of lists. Had I starting accepting submissions a month or two later than I did, I’ve no doubt that works such as Max Zdowt’s  ‘fanciful homosexual epic’  Single Cream (published late 2006) would have made a mark. And if there weren’t already two great novels by writers whose surnames begin with the letter ‘D’, one supposes that Marc de Dujardin’s Down There Again might also have been under discussion. But such is life. Not everybody gets what they want, all of the time.

Which brings us back, I suppose, to the central subject…

Alexis, again

‘It was Carlos Magnificas, was it not, who in 1978 wrote that “sex and war are the only subjects that really concern the modern European writer”? And yet since then our greatest writers have learnt to avoid these dreary passionless subjects and explored other, more stimulating territories. So what if the majority of European writers are still fabricating flagrant erotic dramas set in war-torn countries? Their result of their redundant endeavour is nought but a flaming mountain of visceral waste. It asks to be ignored, from the first word to the last. It is unadulterated tripe, noumenal extravagance: immodestly moronic excrement. A contemporary writer who takes as his central subject the themes of sex and war is but a deluded dullard – with only one exception..’

(Sebastien Cheraz, here)

He’s right: it was indeed Carlos Magnificas – though I’m almost certain he wrote that in 1976, not 1978.

More, a lot more, on this later. In fact, I may even go so far as to say that this next week will be devoted to the life and work of Alexis Pathenikolides. So brush the dust off your copies of The Twisted Olive Tree and prepare oneself for the briny ride of a lifetime.