Like a Modern Art exhibition this book went from truly awful to amazingly wonderful and back (sometimes in the same paragraph).
The book cover resembles a vinyl record and there are many times the narrative passes by Berwick Street Market and other vinyl emporiums in London and elsewhere. The short chapters are titled with what could be the titles of Northern Soul classics, if I could be bothered to check. The protagonist could be fictional or the real Stewart Home, he goes by many names describe himself as an Afro Celt and adds the caveat that biographies and autobiographies in particular are works of fiction.
The book is a bizarre mash-up of overlapping narratives about art vandals, struggling on welfare (“welfare payments had become rarer in the British Isles than sightings of red squirrels“), wife swapping, soul music, blow-up dolls, council housing, heroin addiction, arts funding and Death. Home undercuts the more sensational novelistic content by including personal interviews, aesthetic manifestos, and diary-type entries.
He suggests describing cold turkey would be as meaningless as a 10 000 word essay on the inside of a ping pong ball, but then goes on to describe it anyway.
In the beginning we see the protagonist, taking the identity “Tony Cheam” and going to work in the Orkney Islands at an open prison, as an artist-in-residence. He wants to blow up the Old Man of Hoy a giant rock stack in the name of art. He delights in the vandalism of art, like the burning of David Mach’s Polaris or the Chinese artists having a pillow fight on Tracey Emin’s bed. He is unhappy when the governor of the open prison, wants to see him make real art. “The cretin was forcing me to produce what he called proper drawings.” He incites the burning of the exhibition to collect on the insurance money. There is a lot about contemporary art and culture and the mediocrity of Salman Rushdie’s writing.
“I sometimes fantasised about giving up impersonating a barely professional artist and turning to crime, but I was too stuck in a junk rut to make any changes to my life.”
This isn’t so much a novel as an anti-novel, the author making an appearance midway through and staying there. “After Joyce, post Finnegan’s Wake, there really isn’t any point in writing novels – Literature is dead.” There are many references to contemporary cultural figures.
“Cain’s Book is autobiography written by a writer intelligent enough to understand that this meant it was also fiction.”
There is much talk of neoism, I don’t know if this is an actual art movement or just a parody, being a prefix and suffix with no substance between.
One of the characters is called Claire Grogan, but no references are made to Altered Images (the lead singer of said band is also Claire Grogan), is it just coincidence, the character penned is a sex object from a privileged background.
Near the end of the book Home writes:
“Under the codename Memphis Underground, the Reaper wanted to create a meaningless post-modern allegory using me as the canvas on which to paint his sick vision.”
There is a lot of repetition, whether it be making trips around London to find rare vinyl or perverted playing with blow up dolls. One of the strangest books, I’ve ever read.
My rating for this book overall is 3 out of 5 (some parts were worthy of 5 out of 5 and others 0 out of 5)