Ah, do you remember when I used to read all the time. I used to have about four books on the go at once. (It’s to do with a generally short attention span but there was a book for every mood. It’s the only way to read, I think.) Then, Bad Things Happened and I stopped reading for a while and I am only now starting again. I’ve found, however, that my favourite authors are not pleasing me any longer. Take Will Self, for example. There was a time when I would have lived and died for the next Will Self publication but now I think that he and I are just about through. Yeah, he’s pretentious, arrogant, tautologous and he certainly doesn’t have any bother turning a reader’s stomach when he puts his mind to it, but I did love to read him so. (I do have an attraction to a sordid mind, it has to be said. See above for Bad Things Happening.) Two of Self’s recent novels have not pleased me at all, however.
The Butt, a cautionary tale about stopping smoking I think, was my first disappointment. Well, it was about what happened to one Tom Brodzinsk, really, who, on holiday in an unnamed location, flicked his last ever cigarette from his hotel balcony and burned the living hell out of a sunbather below. That’s a mistake our Tom won’t be making again for he finds himself at the mercy of a seemingly corrupt criminal justice system when he’s charged with ‘assault’. There’s a questionable (and possibly paedophilic) ambassador or helper or something who appears shortly after the cigarette-flicking incident and it’s all downhill from there. So far, so good, one would think – right up my street – but I just couldn’t feel it. Tom wasn’t at all interesting or sympathetic and even when his wife and kids took off (for reasons that were not at all clear), I couldn’t muster up any compassion for him. (Of course, Self is not famous for creating sympathetic characters but I want to be able to feel something.) I ended up quitting Tom and his dubious friend about half way through their adventure. I have no idea how it all ended up, but I would say it was in tears.
Then I gave a collection of Self’s short stories – Dr. Mukti and Other Tales of Woe – a go. Bearing in mind the aforementioned limited attention span, I thought this may be the one to get me back on my feet. The first of the short stories concerned a certain Dr. Mukti and his rival and tormentor Dr. Busner (who, you may recall, first appeared in the Quantity Theory of Insanity). In a bid to outdo each other in both love and life, they trade some poor unfortunate psychiatric patients and it all… erm, that’s all I know. I gave up on it too. I just didn’t care again. I actually gave up mid-sentence, realising that while the battle was clearly important to Drs Mukti and Busner, it was not at all important to me. I enjoyed the next short story – 161 – much more. Real people, real lives, real pain, real sentiment. When I’d finished that, I decided that would be enough of the whole thing. The volume is now in the Possibly for Oxfam pile.
In non-Self news, I next read a Bukowski. I was much younger, much more naive, and much, much, much less feminist when I read my first Bukowski, Post Office. Chinaski, the autobiographical protagonist in many of Bukowski’s novels, is a hard-drinking, hard-talking, hard-loving gentleman of letters who has as many hangovers in a year as he does female conquests. And he never seems to blink an eye. When I first encountered him all those years ago, I fancied myself quite in love for a while. Such freedom of spirit and expression. And the sex; so much sex. I was all sorts of taken with it. I had put off reading Women, the last in the Chinaski trilogy, for reasons I can’t quite remember now, but I picked it about a month ago. Dear Lord! What a fucking horrible man. How could I ever have had a soft spot for him? How could I ever have even have liked him!? Abusive, nasty, misogynistic, horrible, horrible man. That’s the point, of course, and exactly what we’re supposed to think of him, but still. Horrible! To hell with freedom and love and passion, the man’s a fucker and reading about his escapades was torturous (“I got drunk, I got up, I slept with some poor woman, I wrote a poem, I fell over, I got drunk, I got up, I slept with…”). I thought I was going to have to scrub myself with bleach to get rid of him from my mind, but it turns out he hadn’t infiltrated it all that deeply this time. Bukowski was certainly one of the most talented writers of his generation, and his depictions of ordinary, far-from-perfect lives were very affecting at times but MAN, I hate that Chinaski. By definition, I suppose I probably now hate that Bukowski too.