‘Some time over the winter of 2010-11 I began to be gorged with blood – or, rather, my blood itself began to be gorged with red blood cells, with haemoglobin. I didn’t pay it much attention – mostly because I didn’t realise it was happening, the only perceptible symptoms being a certain livid tinge to my face and to my hands, which, I joked to family and friends, had started to resemble those pink Marigold washing-up gloves. When I took my gorged hands out of my jeans pockets the tight denim hems left equally vivid bands smeared across their backs – these, I facetiously observed, were the colour of those yellow Marigold washing-up gloves.
‘The high arts of literature and music stand in a curious relationship to one another, at once securely comfortable and deeply uneasy – rather like a long-term marriage. At the securely comfortable end of the emotional spectrum we have those zeniths of song, the German lieder tradition, and high opera. In the best examples of both forms words and music appear utterly and indissolubly comingled. However, at the other end of this spectrum we have those kinds of music that attempt to be literary – so-called programme music – and those forms of literature that attempt, either through descriptive representation or emulation, to aspire to the condition of music. It is not my wish to denigrate works of these type, nevertheless there does seem to me to be an inevitable compromise – deterioration even – when an art form, rather than proceeding entirely sui generis, finds its ground in another form’s practice.
“Dr Shiva Mukti, a psychiatrist at St Mungo’s, a small and down-at-heel general hospital situated – rather bizarrely – in the dusty pit left behind when the Middlesex Hospital was demolished in the spring of 2008, had, through various serpentine manipulations, got hold of his senior colleague Dr Zack Busner’s mobile phone number, and this he proceeded to call: ‘Who is it?’ Busner snapped. He was lying naked on his bed in the bedroom of the grotty first-floor flat he had recently rented on Fortess Road in Kentish Town above an insurance broker’s. His phone had been balanced on the apex of his sweat-slicked tumulus of a belly, and when it rang it slid down, slaloming expertly through his cleavage, bounced off his clavicle and hit him full in his froggy mouth. Mukti identified himself and explained why he was calling. Busner responded disjointedly: ‘Yes … oh, yes … Yes, I remember you – no, no I’m not. No – I’m not inter- For heaven’s sake, man, I’m retired, I don’t want to examine your patient no matter how novel her symptoms may be … What’s that? Not the first, you say – something of an emerging pattern …?
‘In a typically razor-sharp exchange of dialogue that establishes – yet again – that The Simpsons provides the most coruscating illumination of contemporary mores, Lisa says to her grade-school teacher that “Good looks don’t really matter”, to which Ms Hoover replies: “Nonsense, that’s just something ugly people tell their children.” Stripping away the layers of irony from this statement we can reveal the central premise of Catherine Hakim’s book, which is that not only do looks matter, but that they should matter a great deal more.
“If the events of the past week seem on the surface to be about systemic corruption in British public life then there is also an ulterior process at work. Strange as it may be to state this, the unholy triple alliance between media, the political class and the police may be characterised as a merely epiphenomenal imbroglio. It’s been widely noted that the News of the World, despite being Britain’s largest circulation newspaper, was nonetheless something of a loss leader for News International in an era when not just hard news but also the kind of malicious tittle-tattle that was its stock in trade has been speedily uploaded on to the web.
From the Guardian Review, in which writers recall their most memorable holiday reads. Here’s Will Self’s:
“When I was 18 I took a bus to Lisbon – you used to do that back in the day. Magic Bus from a dusty parking lot next to Gloucester Road tube – I think it cost £25. I had an army surplus kitbag, some hash stashed inside a toothpaste tube – you picked apart the end of the tube with plyers, shoved in the dope, then rolled it up as if it was half used – and John Fowles’s The Magus. I’d liked Fowles’s other books (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Collector, and so on), while not exactly viewing them as belonging to the literary bon ton – more, I suppose, what would nowadays be called a “guilty pleasure”. Anyway, the bus, for those of us of extended height, was waaay uncomfortable – but the Fowles did its job of nullifying the bumps and bashes.
Read Will Self’s review of Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test in the Guardian here.
“I’m still not convinced creative writing can be taught. Perhaps you can take a mediocre novelist and make them into a slightly better one, but a course can’t make someone into a good writer. Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguru both did the UEA MA, but they were both innately good anyway. Some people swear by creative-writing courses. I say, go and get a job, a fairly menial one, instead. Otherwise, what are you going to write about? Writing is about expressing something new and exploring the form in new ways. So unless you want to churn out thrillers or misery memoirs, you can’t work from a pattern book. You need to autodidact.”
“A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a seminar on ageing and fiction at Brunel University. My interlocutor was Fay Weldon, who in her 80th year is not only still writing herself, but also holds the chair in creative writing at Brunel. I’m not sure we had anything that insightful to say on the subject, but the audience seemed entertained. I hesitate to ascribe to Weldon the wisdom of the aged – because, inasmuch as she is weightily wise, she always leavens this with a wickedly dry wit; and besides, she seemed exactly the same to me as the first time I met her, which must have been 15 years ago, when she was a mere stripling of 65.