2013: The Shelf Of Shame

on Monday, December 23, 2013
Strap on your gumboots and wade with me into the muck. It's time to unblock this year's literary toilet.

Do you ever get the feeling that reviewers are just trolling us? These three books certainly made me think so:

All That Is - James Salter: Once upon a time this really old guy wrote a reasonably interesting book about a returned soldier's very ordinary post-war life. Everyone was so amazed that he could manoeuvre a pen in his arthritic fingers that they hailed it as a masterpiece. It wasn't. And they all lived deluded ever after.

Tenth of December - George Saunders: Is there a bigger darling of the literary set right now than George Saunders? The guy can fart in a jar and people will flock from every corner of the earth to take a whiff. Don't believe me? Read Tenth of December. A couple of great stories but, otherwise, a lot of gas.

The Ocean At the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman: Kudos to Amanda Palmer. Having killed her husband in some vampyric ritual, she has managed to convince the world that the zombie-like husk with the Eraserhead hairdo that she trots out in public from time to time is the greatly loved fantasist and comic book legend. That's really the only way I can explain this humdrum, cliched fable. As for its critical reception? Witch! Witch! Burn her at the stake!

We Litnerds are an excitable bunch. Promise us something new from someone we love and you'll have us selling our mums to get our hands on a copy. I hereby apologise to my mum for trading her for the following:

The Quarry - Iain Banks. When an author you once loved dies just before the release of his final book, you hope against hope that it will be a fitting swansong. The Quarry came with all kinds of 'return to form' buzz. To a certain extent it was justified. The Quarry was a return to the disappointing form that had plagued Banks since 1995's Complicity. At least I'll always have The Bridge.

TransAtlantic - Colum McCann. Having written a true modern masterpiece with Let The Great World Spin, it seems McCann tried to recreate the same magic using a similar formula (disparate narrative strings flying out in all directions before coming together to reveal a spectacular tapestry). Unfortunately, TransAtlantic never really took flight. Without the passion, anger, wonder or whimsy of his previous work, it just felt like McCann was going through the motions. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get into it.

Born Weird - Andrew Kaufman. Died disappointed.

I want to dig up Vladimir Nabokov, hand him to Amanda Palmer for reanimation, and set his flesh eating zombie on anyone who dared compare Alissa Nutting's truly awful novel Tampa to Lolita. He can start by ripping the brains out of the buzz-makers who promised us the most daring story written in years. Then he can move on to the reviewers who hailed Nutting's ability to get into the mind of Celeste, the young, female predator telling this crock of a story. Next up the bloggers, podcasters... hell, it's Nabokov. He can eat whoever the fuck he likes. How this book got serious traction absolutely astonishes me. The concept is not original - it was done before (and far better) by both Eleanor Catton and Zoe Heller. Nor is it daring or insightful. Rather, Tampa is cheap and tawdry erotic fan fiction, with plot holes so big you could fit an entire football field of teenage penises through it. Now would someone please pass me a shovel?


Evan said...

A pity about the Salter; the guy can (or could?) write. Have you checked out A Sport and a Pastime? Apparently his Light Years is good too.

The Bookworm said...

Don't get me wrong. The Salter was good. It just wasn't the amazing masterpiece that so many critics made it out to be. I haven't read his other stuff but I hear it is much the same - very good, not great.

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