I’ve been meaning to write this for a couple of weeks – since I got back from holiday, in fact. In France, it rained at night and the sun shone in the day. This seemed a good arrangement. And with no TV and no internet, there was time to read.
I read: Belle du Jour, by .. um.. Belle du Jour; Bringing Nothing to the Party, by Paul Carr; The Other Hand, by Chris Cleave; and The Last Juror, by John Grisham (it came free with a magazine somewhere).
First BDJ. My wife (she’s a novelist) read it first because she wanted to know if it was real. On finishing, she went “hmmm…”. I began reading it. And gave up one-third of the way in.
Why? Because I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that there was a single person writing it. Or if there were, then I felt that person was just lying to me all the way through. (And I didn’t think much of the writing either, tell the truth.)
An instance: at one point, she goes to a big awards dinner with her friend B (or G or X – it’s like the secret service). Yup, her friend B – who she says is “a bouncer at a gay pub”. A what? I didn’t know there was such a job. And if there is, is it really so well-paid that you’ll be getting along to awards dinners – unless it’s Gay Pub Bouncer Of The Year? I’m sorry, but I couldn’t believe at least one-half of that scenario. And when you stop believing that sort of thing, what are you left with? Are these diaries of life, or what? And how strange that none of the clients she dealt with was ever unattractive, rude, smelly. Again, you’re sure there’s no fiction involved here?
I spoke later – on getting back – to some people who I thought might know. (I know, I know, it’s been debated endlessly.) I’m assured by people like Zoe Margolis that BDJ really does exist, and is one person. Well, OK, I’ll have to accept that. But it turns out too that many of the details are obscured; she isn’t Jewish, for example, and there’s much more that she purposely obscured to protect her identity.
Well, OK, fine; conceal yourself. But then don’t be surprised if people giev your book up less than a third of the way through, because it’s not the truth, and it doesn’t work very well as fiction either.
On to Paul Carr’s Bringing Nothing To The Party – subtitled “confessions of a new media whore”. What’s it with my holiday reading and whores?
Anyhow, this is a completely different thing: Carr, who started the Friday Thing, is compellingly honest about his desire to make it rich like (it seemed) all the other internet people in London – Moo, milliondollarhomepage, last.fm, that sort of thing. And so he tried to get an internet startup, er, started.
Where it’s so compelling is in his description of how hard you have to work the spinning wheels to make the Emperor’s new clothes that so many startups wear. They’re not just surviving on fresh air; they’re wearing it too, and trying to sell it to anyone who’ll listen – angel investors, venture capitalists, the press. Seeing the crunch come like a slow-motion car crash is compelling reading. Recommended.
And then we come to The Other Hand, a work of fiction by Chris Cleave. How to describe this? It’s a fantastic novel. Cleave’s first book was Incendiary, about people bombing a train in London. It was published on July 7 2005. Ouch.
That thought gives you some insight into the sort of writer Cleave is: he’s tuned in to the things that are going on underneath the patina of society.
Anyhow, The Other Hand.. is about a British woman who has a finger missing from her left hand, an African beach where she lost it (and not in the sense of “I’m sure I left it here..”), the woman who were there, the British woman’s husband.. and also immigration and asylum policy in the UK, the Home Office spin cycle, women’s magazines, national newspaper opinion columns, and of course four-year-old boys who are certain they are Batman. Clear enough?
The quote to mull over: “As I stood there in my green bikini with my hands over my tits I realise that I had freeloaded myself into annihilation.”
It’s a great book, a fabulous read that despite – or perhaps because – it’s fiction is far more true to life than BDJ. It’s got the graininess of life. Highly recommended.
And finally, John Grisham’s The Last Juror, which turns out to be about a local reporter in a Mississippi paper who buys it out – in the 1970s – when its owner dies. It’s engrossing, quite long (it covers about a decade) and full of realistic touches. I’d expected that it would end with a huge car chase, explosion and last-minute rush into a courtroom. Not at all; the ending is almost an anticlimax. It reads more like Grisham’s paean to the lost times of small newspapers and small towns: when there weren’t Wal-Marts in every town, when the small stores were the lifeblood of the place, when you knew pretty much everyone you needed to.