Thursday, 6 May 2010

Inside of a Dog it's Too Dark to Read*

For anyone following, the Mint Custard Book Club (membership of one) is still going strong although what with the Comedy Festival, silly deadlines at work, applying for jobs, gardening, watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Lost and looking after our puppy I'm not finding the time to keep up my early 2010 pace.

This is not for want of trying. After polishing off Michael Tolliver Lives back in March I surprised myself by ploughing through Michel Houellebecq's Atomised in under a fortnight. On the surface there might seem to be little in common between the most recent in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series and the second novel by French enfant terrible Houellebecq, I can assure you that they share an almost uncomfortable obsession with shagging in all of its pan-sexual glory. Both books devote entire chapters to scenes of masturbation, oral sex, orgies to the point where you start wondering just who they are being written for.

Interestingly for all of Atomised's controversial reputation, it is Maupin who (ahem) comes out on top with some genuinely filthy boy on boy (and in some cases on another boy) action. What makes it less in your face (oh stop it) is the way Michael Tolliver Lives is sugar-coated in syrupy romance. Clearly delighted just to be alive (the last time we saw Michael Mouse in 1989's Sure of You he had just discovered he was HIV positive) our thinly disguised hero may be pushing sixty but that doesn't mean he can't have a muscled partner thirty years his junior who he coos after like the heroine from a Mills and Boon romance. I lost count of the amount of time they slapped each other on the arm/ass/back or snuggled their sleepy heads into each others' thick hairy chests.

This is a shame because whilst there was always a romantic side to the Tales series, it was as punctuation between exciting mysteries, unexpectedly brutal deaths and deeply implausible plot twists. With all the adventure and surprise removed what we are left with is something akin to those reunions of casts of your favourite old television shows: it's nice to see everyone again but the magic that made them special has long since gone.

There is some romance in the unflinching bleakness of Atomised but it's hard to come by and doesn't last. That said it throughly absorbed me for a while and its 2001: a Space Odyssey conclusion (with our perspective endlessly pulled back until we're actually sharing seats with the deus and all their machina) was dizzying. For a while I thought I was going to come away loving this book - a kind of scientific Sophie's World - but I think in the end I just read about one wank too many.

Still, I'm on track for a piece of fiction a month but since I'm only 200 marvellous pages into Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (with 400 to go) I may have to find more time for reading to keep up.

(with thanks to Groucho Marx*)

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