Skip to main content

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Having met Jon on several occasions, and having come away each time with the feeling that he was genuinely interested in what I had to say and felt moved by some sort of kinship to reveal titbits of personal information (like about how his brother is a bit of a [rude word here]), I have developed a distinct and comfortable fondness for him, his writing, his documentaries and even his film (or rather the film of his book). In retrospect, given that in every instance where we coincidentally arrived at the same point in space at around the same time was due to the fact that, as an erstwhile bookseller, I was there to sell his books for him, I worry that this bond was illusory, the easy self-deception facilitated by the fact that he was motivated by insecurity to be nice to the guy who, nominally, had the success or failure of the undertaking in his hands.

I’ve had a beer with him, a smoke with him, seen his “foot herpes” (I kid you not, but although I’m not a medical professional I suspect he was being melodramatic), attempted to placate him when the turnout was not quite as huge as we had hoped (I blame the weather on the night and city centre parking in Cardiff), and agreed that Victoria Coren was a fun gal, much like her brother (not that I’ve met Giles or Victoria, but still...). I made him write rude phrases on the title page of my copies of each of his books (my personal favourite is still “Suck me baby, yeah!”) and have religiously read every single one of them (Ahem. That is except for Out of the Ordinary and What I Do as they’re currently behind Robert Musil on the ‘To Read’ shelf and so will probably remain there for a little while until I pick up the courage to do The Man without Qualities). I like him. But am I a fool so to do?

The Man Without Qualities
The best (or worst?) of investigative journalism can take the familiar and represent it in a way that makes the reader question his or her passive acceptance of a subject, either judiciously stripping away cultural assumptions, Socrates-like, or wilfully misrepresenting it to force a reaction and get us to engage. Jon’s (or should I say “Ronson’s” - now I’ve questioned my own assumptions I cannot decide, so must stick with the status quo regardless) latest book, to which I am now mercifully coming, is, as always to me at least, a revelation of sorts. Erudite and self-deprecating, joyfully innocent and desperately jaded, I’m sure it will be a critical and financial success, as far as a book can be these days without a J.K. Rowling endorsement on the front. Indeed there is even room for a film adaptation – Tony, now of Bethlem (or Bedlam as it was known) would make an interesting cinematic study I’m sure. It’s impossible not to enjoy the way he writes, and I can almost hear his voice as I read, slightly anxious and mentally willing the explicitly funny bits (especially where it’s Jon who quips and jokes) to be recognised as such. It’s even quite possible that Jon has ticked both aforementioned boxes whilst digging the dirt on psychiatry and its opponents. But what is potentially and unfortunately a side effect of The Psychopath Test is that I now want to question his motives. Is that ingratiating manner of writing just manipulation? Is he exploiting my weaknesses? Does he want me to like what he writes (and subsequently him) so that I feel the need to give him money? Am I stupid enough to give it to him? [In this case, no, as I’m the proud owner of an advance reading proof copy. Huzzah for connections in the trade!] Did he ever really like me?

It seems an over-active amygdala might just be infectious.

Comments

How's about that then?

Selected Holiday Reading - The In-Betweeners Abroad

I always try to travel light, a goal, something with which those among you with bookish leanings will empathise, that is challenging for someone intending to do as much reading as they can whilst ignoring as much culture and scenery as is possible. So huzzah and indeed hurrah for the generic e-book reader and its market competitors. Ten years ago I would likely have suffered a paroxysm of disgust for any apologist of the hated technology. Now, it seems, I must take one everywhere I go for more than one night.



The trip to which I am coming, an August sojourn by ferry to Santander and then by VW through Calabria, the Basque country, and north through Aquitaine, Poitou-Charente, Pays de la Loire and Bretagne, was a chance to get some serious reading under the belt. Twelve days of driving, drinking, books and beaches. The only 'real' books that made the trip were The Vagabond's Breakfast, of which more anon, and All The Days And Nights which, as I was on a deadline, I quickly …

Under The Dust by Jordi Coca

So, wheel of fortune, count to 29, pin the tail, freebies off of peeps on Twitter etc. etc. Whatever the methods sometimes employed to pick the next book in my intertextual experience, the one that brought me to Jordi Coca brought me to a whopping great slice of nostalgia. Before I'd even opened it, it brought to mind Richard Gwyn, himself a published poet, author, biographer, translator and course director of the MA Creative Writing course at Cardiff University, who I recall for some odd reason gently encouraging me to read this novel, and by whose own work I was quietly impressed at the time. He was also an advocate of Roberto Bolaño, another writer in whose work I can immerse myself but from which I emerge drained, as mentioned previously. Before that, though, there is this sticker on the front, declaring 'Signed by the Author at Waterstone's'. It is indeed signed by Jordi Coca, not adding any particular intrinsic value to the book, not for me anyway, but more impor…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…

Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage. 

In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time. 

However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…