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Saturday 16 January 2016

The case for burning books

Three novels I feel I’ve already read.

MODERN MARTYR Tarquin Falafel, a middle-aged man of independent means but no detectable gender, has made a career out of lacking energy; his house-keeper breaks into his breakfast boiled egg for him. A post-doctorate dissertation he is writing on Tunisian sea myths is still only in note form after eleven years. When a letter in North Mesopotamian Arabic is forwarded by his family solicitor he finds he has inherited a villa on the Mediterranean coast in Sidi Bou Said. The weather would alleviate his emphysema but after contemplation in his rose arbour he tears up the letter, preferring a lingering death. “Filigree prose.” The Times Literary Supplement.

TORTURED TEACHER Stanley K, a sociology lecturer without tenure at Smethwick University (née Claggs Road Poly) is engaged in a bitterly unrewarding affair with the wife of the university chaplain. Since both are slaves to an extreme form of masochism, no climax has been forthcoming for twenty-seven months. Their children (dozens) live unfettered lives and repeatedly burn down their parents’ rented accommodation. The lovers die cursing each other when the police over-react to a street demo complaining about prices in the staff canteen, and details of their lives are incorporated in the classic socio-pathic study: Midlands Distopia. “Gritty.” Horse and Hound.

SYSTEMATIC SCRIBE When Clancy Fugits, a self-proclaimed novelist living in Swindon, runs into writer’s block in the first paragraph of his first novel, he discards the theme (West Country autonomy) and writes instead about writer’s block. Thus he is able to justify his lack of progress, join the lecture circuit, become famous for being pelted with bread rolls, claim and be awarded a small Arts Council grant, spend this on one night’s debauchery in Chippenham and go on the dole. “Feasible.” Financial Times.


  1. If it had been 1st April I would have taken this for an April fool - perhaps it is?

    I may start taking Horse and Hound.

  2. They await your muse to be written, perhaps?

  3. Sir Hugh: Alternatively you could take the whole post at face value.

    Lucy: This was far harder to do than I imagined. In each case I only managed the tone; the factual structure proved to be beyond me. No need for me to write the novels of course: they have all, in principle, been written many times.

  4. I felt that "Clancy Fugits" may have been RR in reflective mode?

  5. Avus: Never in this world. Whenever I grind (temporarily) to a halt I work through it without drawing attention to the fact. A writer who can only write about writing should get out more in my opinion; a writer who writes about writer's block (and many do) has renounced all claim to imagination.

  6. I only just noticed the summarising 'gritty' on 'Tortured Teacher' was ascribed by Horse and Hound, which is making me laugh quite a bit. The ghosts of the Airedale Beagles ride again!

    Writers who write about writer's block should be put down like horses with broken legs. Over here I understand they receive the Prix Goncourt.

  7. Lucy: To be re-read is ectasy. To be re-read, commented upon and to see allusions to earlier work included is Eggs Mornay followed by Gevry Chambertin (with someone you don't like paying). There can't be anything left.