|I can see a dwarf, Terry!|
I can see a dwarf!
Friday, 22 April 2016
And it certainly helps to have this framework in mind when you read it. With his sonorous bass-baritone booming in your mind's ear you can't help but chuckle when he describes punching Harold Pinter, who was 'in a heightened state of celebration,' down some stairs, or telling his co-stars on The Trojan Women that rather than make love he'd prefer a big shit. I can't help but imagine that hearing him boom these tall tales directly into my actual ear would add significant value to the experience. Nonetheless, it's still a humorous and enjoyable read, for all its faults. And there are a few.
First off, it's hard not to judge a book like this by its cover, and large, easy-to-read font, and publication date. There is something tawdry about the cult of celebrity that spews forth these memoirs just in time for Super Thursday and the early-gifting phase of retail bookselling. This is one of those. Regardless of my respect for the man, his work (what little I've seen I've enjoyed), and his beard, it's hard not to feel that this is written for a particular market, for people who enjoy reading the serialised scandals in tabloid newspapers, the 'secret' feuds of zed-listers, the back-stage shenanigans of the rich and fabulous. What I'm trying to say, in a way which hides the fact I'm a fucking great snob, is that I'm a fucking great snob and look down on the people to whom this is marketed. Secondly, it's very conversational, in that he wanders off topic and repeats himself, which is okay, and I imagine adds to its charms for some, but it's also a very self-aware memoir, looking to justify itself and its style by self-reference, and that feels a little artificial.
But then what can I say? Blessed is a one-off. He's also an enduring and instantly recognisable figure, and captures the hearts of most people; who am I to criticise his decision to publish another memoir while he's riding some sort of zeitgeist?. Also, bearing in mind I have one of the great Jim'll Paint It's canvas prints of the man punching a polar bear in the face–"Right in the fucking face!" (sadly an anecdote that didn't make it into this book)–I'd look a right chump being anything other than grateful it exists.
Tuesday, 12 April 2016
|I want you to promise me you|
won't believe a word I just said.
That's twenty-five years in the making. I fucking love the flow of intertextuality!
Regardless of how I got here, after reading one I was sorely tempted to go out and hoard every single Hunt novel I could, an urge to which only the high price (but exquisite quality) of the not-for-profit publishers Coffee House Press editions put a stop. But clearly not for long.
And so along came Indiana, Indiana, which is a disarmingly simple novel told in such a fashion as to leave you speechless. 'My thoughts were so loud I couldn't hear my mouth,' wrote Modest Mouse in The World at Large, and thus it went for me. Noah (cue thoughts of arks and safe harbour from the tempest) is old, and alone except for cats and a man called Max, and the ghost of his father. In fact, perhaps ghost is the wrong word, but in the absence of a better description it will do. For Noah is a man with gifts, or maybe a broken mind incapable of discerning truth from reality, and in this context the drama of his life is replayed across the pages. This nebulous and unnerving device should render what is presented as deeply unreliable, as Hunt strives to take what is familiar and render it surprising, twisting the traditional experiences of seeing and hearing and reading and squeezing out a different kind of beautiful truth. But in fact, what happens, in a manner which I trust will not ruin the surprises of the slow reveal, is that the reader immediately accepts that Noah's visions are the truth, are what he remembers and what did happen, from the burning down of the house he shared with his common law wife, to the discarded responsibilities of his postal route, the slow creeping death of his father and his experiences of love and loss, stretched out in silent eternity between the pinioning anchors of the letters he received and re-reads, perhaps only with his mind's eyes, from his wife in her asylum isolation. But even as Noah's blissful sanctuary was ripped from him by the forces of madness and a community wary of their shared oddness, Noah is able to retreat into his own ark, away from the cold waters of loneliness, insulated by his collections of letters and pictures, with his masks and cats and a jug of homemade wine, as he sits by the crackling fire in his shed and drifts along on the meandering currents of memory and forgetting. And it is stunningly done. There are tiny moments of appalling beauty in the writing, and they build up into an elegy of one man's existence in a small community in the centre of Indiana, in the heart of the country.