Posts Tagged ‘book review’

New Reality Records – 9th January 2023

Edward S. Robinson

Literature was the original rock ‘n’ roll. Throughout history, writers have not only been at the cutting edge of culture, but they also invented the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle centuries before the concept of rock ‘n’ roll came to be.

Latterly, literature has become ‘establishment’, entrenched in a certain model based on agents and publishers and increasingly concerned with margins and the trappings of capitalism at the expense of placing art in the public domain.

Stewart Home has never been establishment, and never will be, which is precisely why his latest novel failed to land a deal with any publisher. Now, the establishment will likely scoff and say that no publisher would take it because it’s not what they were looking for, or it’s too niche, or it’s too risky or too risqué. But back in the 80s and 90s, those were all reasons why publishers would take on a title. Others may say, while looking down their noses, that it’s simply trash and therefore of no interest because it’s crap, but that argument doesn’t wash when major publishing houses put out shit like 50 Shades and continue to squander gallons of ink on populist toss like Dan Brown and Stephen Leather and while amateur ‘erotica’ is all the rage online. After all, the mainstream has a habit of observing emerging trends and then seeking to monetise them. Moreover, in the 80s and 90s, Home published a slew of books through anarchist publisher AK Press and the then-edgy Serpent’s Tail with his trashy politicised pulp rips on Richard Allen. He found a home with Scottish imprint Canongate for his audacious ‘Diana’ novel 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, before Virgin published Tainted Love in 2005. So it certainly isn’t that he hasn’t a well-established publishing record, or that potential controversy has been an obstacle to publication in the past, meaning that what we’re seeing the publishing industry narrowing its horizons while focusing on broadening margins.

For all that, Home has always existed beyond the milieu of the conventional, emerging from the avant-garde art scene and xeroxed zine culture of the 80, and so it stands to reason that he would reject publishing convention and find a record label to publish Art School Orgy. The fact that it’s a fictionalised biography of sorts of a living artist, namely David Hockney, is perhaps one reason most publishers shied away from the book in a culture that’s evermore litigious, although there’s never any question that this, like many of Home’s previous works, is anything other than a huge, audacious exercise in taking the piss.

Home’s style has long been hard to pigeonhole, as it varies from book to book: while his earlier works were perversely trashy and bluntly anti-literary, he’s proven over the course of his now-lengthy career, to be remarkably adaptable: The Assault On Culture was overtly and quite explicitly academic, while Tainted Love, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, and She’s My Witch all showcased a measured narrative form, and while the last of these three employed classic Home methods of repetition, much of the purpose seemed to be to grind the reader down with a text whereby very little happens, over and over again. But then, Home has long been an author who revels in the anti-climax. Equally, though, he is a master of the climax, and there are many of those in Art School Orgy, the pages splashed all over with vintage Home phrases referencing liquid genetics and hand jobs and a lengthy speech on anal sex.

In fact, so many elements common to Home’s oeuvre are present here, demonstrating his knack for recycling and willingness to continue to work a theme long beyond the point of exhaustion.

The lengthy extracts or even complete texts quoted within the text – including an exhaustive catalogue of methods for cock and ball torture, or CBT, which reads like an endless catalogue of kinks like Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom – are quintessential Home, and while none of these (fictitious) tomes conjure quite the awe of works like the seminal ‘Christ, Marx, and Satan United in Struggle’, they still bring a certain gravitas to the riotous spunkfest that is the main body of the text. As for the main body of the text, well: if Home initially traded parodically in sex and violence, Art School Orgy stitches it all together in a tale of sexual violence, and if previous works dropped in dirt every few pages to push the story along, on this outing, it’s fair to say that the dirt is the entire point of the story, and he stuffs page after page with perversion.

The dialogue is magnificently stilted and as corny and unconvincing as the best of his earlier works, too, but then again, E. L. James made her fortune pedalling worse dialogue minus the irony, and even worse sex scenes, too. And in its juxtaposition of more middlebrow fiction with the cheapest, smuttiest pulp, Art School Orgy occupies similar space to Come Before Christ and Murder Love. At times, the awkward stylistic crunches are frustrating, but this is classic Home: a wind-up merchant par excellence, his aim is to create works which are frustrating, and on many levels.

In the (throbbing) vein of Blood Rights of The Bourgeoise, the chapter titles are pithy phrases designed to shock (‘An Explosion of Spunk’; ‘Egyptian Mummy Porn’; ‘Desperate for Cock, Hungry for Fame’… and so on). You’d think after this length (and girth) of time, audiences would be numb to the tactic, and yet… no. ‘The Tip of David Hockney’s Waxed Manhood Lit Up Like Christmas Tree’ and ‘A Bottle of Bell’s Up the Backside is Rough Sex Heaven’ aren’t chapter titles one expects in a novel, literary or otherwise, and even the likes of James, for all the salacity of the Fifty Shades books, presents as infinitely more coy. There are no ‘inner goddesses’ in Art School Orgy, just endless depictions of throbbing gristle and wads of hot spunk. There’s nothing subtle about Home’s writing: there doesn’t have to be, and ultimately, that’s the point. With Art School Orgy, Home highlights just how conservative literature – even supposedly low-brow, populist kink fiction – really is. And when you consider the context, despite the supposed proliferation of perversion since the advent of the internet and the debate over the way shows like Game of Thrones has beamed rape And incest into living rooms across the globe, we live in dangerously conservative times, where ‘free the nipple’ is actually a thing. This was not the case in the 60s, when nipples simply were free, and by 1967, seven years after Hockney’s coming out as gay, homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Britain.

This is, one suspects, a key motive behind Home’s text; not to paint Hockney as an indefatigable BDSM fuckmachine – which it has to be said, seems the primary thrust – but to make the point that consensual Sadomasochism is the choice of those involved, and the fact that it was outlawed at the time the book is set is, well, as perverse as the acts depicted.

Repeatedly referring to Hockney as ‘our rapscallion’ every few pages becomes annoying and predictable within the first thirty pages, but Home has the stamina and the audacity to keep it going for the duration of the book’s two-hundred-and-ninety pages. Of course, he’d sight Bergson and the theory that repetition is the basis of humour, and I can’t deny that I’m chuckling while squirming uncomfortably – but not nearly as uncomfortably as the protagonist, who is subjected to page upon page of the most excruciating tortures imaginable. There is absolutely no let-up during Art School Orgy, and for this, it’s Home’s most outlandish and challenging novel to date. It makes you feel all kinds of discomfort all at once.

This is very much the response reading Home tends to elicit. You can’t help but laugh, but equally feel incredibly uncomfortable, for a range of reasons, not least of all a nerve-jangling sense that everything about this writing goes against what you’re taught literature should be. But first and foremost, it’s a rollocking read, because however hard Home pushes a point or sells an agenda, he never loses sight of the idea that a good book entertains. And Art School Orgy is a proper romp.

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Art School Orgy is available to order via New Reality Records’ Bandcamp.

Unbound – 11th November 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I may not have discovered The Sisters of Mercy until 1987 (being born in ‘75, I was simply too young to have been around in their first phase), like many, I have long been fascinated by those early years and their ascent from vaguely ramshackle indie act to the band who released the album which would essentially define the sound of ‘goth’ for decades to come. By ‘fascinated’, I really mean ‘obsessed’, particularly in my teens, but my love of The Sisters has endured. While the story of those first five years has been told, retold, fetishized and transformed into lore with elements of legend and myth blended in along the way (much of which having been perpetuated by Andrew Eldritch himself), it’s never been given truly detailed coverage, and for this reason, I joined many in pitching in for the crowdfunding of Mark Andrews’ biography. The wait felt like forever, and in the meantime, Trevor Ristow dropped Waiting for Another War (which I’m yet to pick up) on the same period. And so it is that Sisters bios are like proverbial busses, although that’s certainly no complaint: it simply indicates the impact and significance of a band who, despite having been in existence for over forty years and who haven’t released a record in the last thirty.

The book looks and feels like quality (although some have griped about the lack of capitalisation on the definite article both on the cover and throughout the text), but it’s on the contents that Andrews’ work should be judged. There is no two ways about it that Paint My Name in Black and Gold was worth the wait.

Two things immediately stand out: the quality and depth of the research, and the quality of the prose. The latter is particularly appreciated, and important: all the research in the world counts for little if not conveyed in a way that’s appealing. Put simply, Andrews writes nicely, and he writes well, accessibly but not pitched at those with a reading level of The Sun. Nor does he become so involved in trainspotting details of catalogue numbers or numbers of copies pressed or sold or takes in the studio. This is a very human biography, and the input from pretty much everyone involved with the band during the time (with the notable exception of Eldritch) not only brings it to life, but also gives it a real weight of credibility. Mark Pearman (Gary Marx) comes across particularly well, his reflections honest and considered, his position remarkably philosophical and even-handed.

The way in which Andrews places the development of the band in context makes for very interesting reading, with extensive coverage of the Leeds scene of the late 70s and early 80s, as well as the band’s strong links with York at the beginning (the Priestley’s signage remains at the top of Bootham, although it’s now a rather bourgeois homeware retailer). This alone makes for essential reading for anyone with an interest in the emerging post-punk scene, where writing about Leeds has been largely overshadowed by that on Manchester, and of course, London.

He moves things on at a steady but swift pace, but at the same time doesn’t skimp on detail, and pack the book with anecdotes and information about standout nights on particular tours and recording sessions, as well as various wild antics that seem so at odds with the seriousness of the music. Above all, Andrews captures the essence of the experience of existing in and around The Sisters during this time – the camaraderie and sense of community and even family, the buzz, the connection between the band, collectively and individually, with their fans. He also traces how the dynamic would shift and some of that proximity would diminish over time as the band got bigger. It’s also apparent that even in the early stages, the band dynamic and friendships thrived on the differences as much as the similarities of the members, and how much Eldritch was the driving force.

Andrews also presents an impressively balanced and objective perspective: while clearly a fan, there’s no idolisation of the band or any individual here, and his admiration for Eldritch – something that most of the interview subjects also express – is tempered by a realistic appraisal of his shortcomings and at times wilful stubbornness and perversity. That Eldritch is a stickler and prone to obsessive behaviour is widely known among fans, but Andrew really brings things to life when he writes of how Eldritch would literally spend long nights fiddling with EQ levels just to hear how they sound, and it requires no imagination whatsoever to comprehend the frustrations of band members and producers alike working alongside him. But more than even this, in Paint My Name, Andrews goes a long way to excavate the contradictions and complexities of the man who became Andrew Eldritch, how the nerdy, glam-obsessed Andrew Taylor would transmogrify into the beast that is Eldritch, and details the damage done to both himself – mentally and physically – and those around him along the way. The poverty and degradation are at times harrowing, and the long tours of ‘84 and ‘85 may have been among the band’s most memorable and seen them play to the largest numbers of fans of their career, but the way in which Andrews relays just how strung-out, fucked-up and fractured the band were behind the scenes renders their achievements all the more remarkable.

The epilogue provides a condensed overview of the years which would follow, but it’s clear that none of The Sisters’ subsequent history could come close to being quite as gripping as the first five years, whereby the rise of The Sisters would reverberate indefinitely.

The hardback is sold out, but the e-book edition is still available via Unbound.

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