Archive for December, 2009

May I be the One

May I be the one to wish the six people who read this blog.

‘A rockin’ Xmas.’


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The more I read about Zola as a young man, the more I know he was exactly the kind of writer I would have disliked on a personal and subjective basis. Zola was a pushy, arrogant little man, not above writing glowing reviews of his own books and  was very assured of his genius well before he had demonstrated it.

Zola wrote of himself in the blurb for  La Confession de Claude ..

‘ The author reveals himself as possesing a strange talent, made up of exquisite delicacy and frantic audacity’.

These days, he’d have been writing his own  customer reviews on Amazon, I suppose.

 Jules Valles, who later became one of the leaders of the Paris Commune, describes meeting a young Emile Zola when he worked for the publishers Hachette.

”A short man with an olive complexion and a ‘disdainful almost supercilious mouth’….All of a sudden Zola raised his eyes and asked Valles point blank, ‘Do you feel you are a power?’ Valles  did not know how to answer this, but  Zola, paying no attention, went on..

‘Speaking for myself, I feel I am one’ and without adding a word more, turned his mouth down into the same curiously disdainful curl.

The remark was intended as a simple statement of fact.”

And of course, Zola was right.

(Page 49 The Life & Times of Emile Zola F.W.J. Hemmings 1977)

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The Belly of Paris

Zola can be touching in his simplicity when he writes about working animals. The way he describes the  pit horses in Germinal is wonderfully concise  and refreshingly economical compared to the way Zola often tends to over-describe his human characters.

Here he is on page 21-22 of  The Belly of Paris (trans. Brian Nelson.), talking about a donkey.

“Here they found a small cart, scarcely bigger than a wheelbarrow, to which a little donkey was harnessed. He must have felt bored, for as soon as he saw them, he began to bray so long and so loudly that the vast roofs of Les Halles seemed to shake. Then the horses began to neigh in reply, there was a great sound of pawing and scraping  of hooves, and a great din in the distance, which grew, spread and then died away.”

These are the passages in Zola which make me go cold. The  incidental details which always make me cry.  That little scene with the donkey, and the other horses hearing his voice and  joining in , doesn’t need to be there as Florent explores Les Halles markets, desperate for something to eat, but the fact that it is there, means everything, so far as I am concerned.

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Neverland by Simon Crump

I once had an idea to write a book with the proposition that Elvis had survived his heart attack on the toilet, had a transplant, made a monumental comeback at Live Aid and later discovered that Lisa Marie was about to marry Michael Jackson; Elvis and his guys then declared war on Neverland. After reading Simon Crump, I understand that I wasn’t even in the ball-park. Following his gloriously insane My Elvis Blackout, he imagines a world in which Wacko is, in a series of inter-connected stories, prospecting for gold in the Klondike, alive, dead, buying a unicorn on e-bay, hanging out with Uri Geller and Bubbles, and, yes, is married to Lisa Marie. And it’s mostly narrated by Lamar Fike, one of Elvis’s guys, who has emerged from a long coma to work for Michael. A book that stays with you.

Jon is dead right though..it’s a really great book and an ideal Christmas present.


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For a Night of Love

A 45 page story.

For Zola,  not  really such a big deal..

Having  just re-read ‘Pot-Bouille ‘(Piping Hot!/Pot Luck/Restless House/Lesson in Love..whatever) and for the second time being rather underwhelmed  by the way Zola  cuts the story off so quick,  just so that our hero,  Octave Mouret, with  his eyes ‘the colour of old gold’,  can come back in style in ‘Au Bonheur des Dames’..I had a quick read  of my latest and much lighter Zola eBay purchase.

 And  this little story amazed me.

I’ve always thought that Zola’s talent was a widescreen affair, that Zola required  his broad canvas, that he needed to expand and  to take in the whole lot, and  I’ve always thought that’s how he operated, and I’ve always thought that was how we should really see  Emile Zola in full effect.

Well I was wrong .

Zola doesn’t need that.  He can do what he does from one room overlooking another, and he can do it in 45 pages. This story is a killer.  Sex, sadism, murder, suicide. The flute.

It’s all there in this one.

This is Zola …stripped-away, streamlined ,distilled, filtered and  then re-distilled, all the way down to industrial strength. 

‘For Night of Love’ is  an absolute screamer. I always thought ‘Germinal’ was Zola’s masterpiece.. but now I’m not so sure.

Not a sentence is superfluous in ‘For a Night of Love’, nor  a word out of place.  Zola  hasn’t wasted any single part of  these 45 pages. Everything that is there, needs to be there and there is nothing but perfection here.

It got slagged  at the time of course…

“The narrative begins with a carefully accentuated picture of a serene life: that of a timid lad sequestered in a country town; this serenity is but the prelude to events of the most appalling tragedy-a tragedy which does not merely strike or wound, but positively annihilates… It is not needful to do more than say that it is one of the most repulsive productions ever published by its author, and a vivid exception to the general innocuous character of his short stories.” (Edmund Gosse, 1892)

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You need two copies of Germinal…

One to keep in the house, and one to carry with you at all times, should you need to refer to it in an emergency.

More on this later.

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The Big Issue

It was good to be in The Big Issue. And it made a nice change  to be in there as a writer, rather than  ‘Vendor of the Week’ or listed  in the back pages (again) as ‘Missing’ by my parents.

But just look what those barstewards did to my hair..



The picture which follows is NOT work safe

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