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.

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