Shh…I hate you

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EXERCISES IN STYLE BY RAYMOND QUENEAU

Thoughtful

My reaction to books like Raymond Queneau’s Exercises In Style is comparable to my reaction when faced with certain works of conceptual, or modern, art, such as, for example, Martin Kippenberger’s Wittgenstein. What I mean by this is that the enjoyment I derive from them is superficial, is immediate but not long-lasting; in fact, I tend to find equal or greater enjoyment in the concepts or ideas being described to me as I do in experiencing them myself.

To my mind, the most basic pre-requisite for any good novel is that once you’ve picked it up it makes you want to continue reading it. However, Exercises in Style did quite the opposite: it implored me to put it down. The preface has it that ‘[The author’s] purpose in the Exercises is, I think, a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language.’ A profound exploration into the possibilities of language? Come on. It’s clever at best; a Nabokov wet-dream.

Professional journalism

Raymond Queneau’s critically acclaimed novel, Exercises in Style, is like Martin Kippenberger’s Wittgentstein dancing the mazurka with Vladimir Nabokov, while trapped in a lift.

Sarcastic

Oh it is really great. Absolutely thrilling too. I cannot think of a single book that has entertained me quite as much as Exercises in Style. Didn’t bore me at all, oh no.  Made me think of Kippenberger’s Wittgenstein, which is the highest compliment I can pay anything, because that shelving unit is mind-blowing. I mean, just…wow. I could stare at it for hours, while contemplating the meaning of the universe. That’s how profound a statement it is…a shelving unit, painted grey. Well, fuck me sideways. Nabokov would probably have got a huge kick out of it. I know he liked Exercises in Style. Vlad had impeccable taste. He hated Faulkner, for a start, who was obviously rubbish. Old Bill could only have dreamt of writing something with as much substance as Queneau’s novel. What is The Sound and The Fury? Complete pap, obviously. He should have written a book in 99 different styles, and then maybe he would have the same lofty reputation as the author of this masterpiece.

Auditory

Gay Erotica

I fondled the cover, pressing lightly with the tips of my fingers, before gently pulling the book apart until it opened wide. I entered it slowly, almost tentatively sliding inside, trying to control my breathing. As I found my rhythm, I worked my way in deeper and deeper. Metaphorical!, Raymond screamed. I quickened my pace, pushed on harder and harder. Free verse! Sweat appeared on my brow. It rolled down my face and dripped onto a page. Ah-ah-ah-asides! I was starting to think Raymond was enjoying this more than I was. I thought of Martin, that difficult German with whom I’d once had the briefest of flings.

Tweet

@RaymondQueneau Just finished your book #shit

Poetry

O Raymond, Raymond Queneau,
I read your little book, y’know.
I wish I hadn’t bothered though.
O Raymond, Raymond Queneau!

O Raymond, Raymond Queneau,
Should’ve learned my lesson long ago,
For I’ve never been a fan of Oulipo.
O Raymond, Raymond Queneau!

Telegraphic

RAYMOND QUENEAU STOP

Horror

I was once lost in the dark, foreboding corridors of a German art gallery. My heart beating with fear, I turned a corner and there saw, not a genuine work of art, but a shelving unit…painted fog-grey. O Martin Kippenberger! What monstrous urge compelled you to create such a thing? What madness? I stumbled before the great grey beast, which loomed over me like a nightmare…and then I ran, sure that it was chasing me, and ever gaining ground.

As the years passed I put my experience in the German art gallery down to an overactive imagination. Until the night I opened Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. There is was again! The grey shelving unit. O of course it wasn’t actually there on the page, but it was still there, don’t you see? The shelving unit leapt from the book and bore down on me, like an ugly old house, in which something evil lurks, something horribly reminiscent of…boredom. I tried to clap it shut, but my hands would not move; there was a resistance coming from the book itself. Suddenly a voice rang out in my room: You must finish it! It is a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language!

Pictorial

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Formal

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you regarding my recent experience of reading Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau. I had been promised ‘a profound exploration into the possibilities of language,’ which this product entirely failed to deliver. Therefore, I consider it my duty to compose a review of the book in question in order to highlight its many faults. In doing so I hope to warn other potential readers against making the kind of rash and ill-informed purchase that I did myself.

Yours sincerely,

[P]

Crude

This book is fucking shit.

Crude [third person]

He thought the book was fucking shit.

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TIMBUKTU BY PAUL AUSTER

Cats are great. They do cool stuff like this:

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And this:

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And this:

cat eating cactus

I am pretty sure that what goes on in their heads would be worth reading about.

It’s a shame, then, that Paul Auster chose to write his novel Timbuktu from the perspective of a dog.

Cat-Sitting-on-Sleeping-Dog

Bad call, Paul. Bad call.

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THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

Morrissey once sang about living in the arse of the world. Well, I am pretty sure Murakami represents the arse of literature. This is apparently his masterpiece, which means, of course, that it is his longest [or it was, as it has now been superseded by 1Q84] and most Politically Aware [you getting this, nobel judges!] novel. Unfortunately, none of that is worth a drip of piss if the writing is as stilted and catastrophically poor as is on display here.

What can one expect from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? Uh, do you even need to ask? Anyone who has a mere passing interest in Murakami’s work already knows what to expect: a nondescript, emotionally stunted every-bloke and some insufferably kooky women.

THE BEST BIT: Every-bloke crawls into a well, and, y’know, stays down there for a while.

Worth noting re: the best bit: Well, it’s kinda stolen from The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe.

Also worth noting re: the best bit: The bottom of a well usually only accommodates one person, so the possibility of any of those kooky women turning up is diminished.

Warning re: the best bit: I’m pretty sure one of those kooky women does turn up in the well.

THE WORST BIT: the kooky women, of course. Oh, and the tour-de-force man-getting-skinned-alive sequence [seriously, nobel judges, YOU GETTING THIS?!]. Ack, why do authors feel the need to hammer us with this kind of pornographic shite? I can imagine what a man being skinned alive entails, Haruki, I don’t need you to describe it for me in excruciating detail. Fuck the fuck off.

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FIGHT CLUB BY CHUCK PALAHNIUK

[P]: Hello everyone. My name is [P].

Everyone: Hello [P]!

Leader of the group: And is there anything you want to tell us [P].

[P]: Uh, yeah, um, my name is P. and, ah, I’m a man

[The leader nods sympathetically. There are nervous whispers among the group. Barry raises his hand]

Leader of the group: Yes, Barry?

Barry: I’m also a man.

Leader of the group: Very good! That is the first time you’ve admitted that. Now, [P], tell us more about your condition.

[P]: I, erm, I get these, ah, these inclinations, these desires, um, like, I dunno, like I want to fight and shit.

Leader of the group: And how does that make you feel?

[P]: Christ, I, ah, well, it makes me feel big, like, important.

[Barry raises his hand]

Leader of the group: Yes, Barry?

Barry: I like to punch things.

Leader of the group: Thank you, Barry.

[P]: Yeah, and, sometimes, I feel like, I dunno, the world has gone all soft.

Leader of the group: You feel emasculated?

[P]: I guess so. You could say that, yes. I feel like everything is a bit, uh, gay or something, y’know? Like, spray-tans…I don’t get that. I mean, you look orange, dude, like a fucking spacehopper. And, er, waxing? Like, eyebrows and shit? Michael Jackson shit, that is.

Leader of the group: You don’t think men should wax?

[P]: No, I mean, men should look like men, right? Is that frowned upon now?

Leader of the group: You brought something with you to show the group, didn’t you?

[P]: Yeah. It’s a, uh, a picture.

Leader of the group: What is the picture of, [P]?

[[P] bends down and picks up a framed photograph from between his feet]

Leader of the group: Turn it around and show us please, [P].

[P]: [holding up the framed picture] This is Putin, my bear

Leader of the group: Your bear?

[P]: Yeah, I, um, I raised him, from a cub. We wrestle.

Leader of the group: Wrestle?

[P]: Yeah, I, ah, strip to the waist and we, uh, wrestle. It makes me feel…I dunno…good about myself.

Leader of the group: You feel insignificant?

[P]: Sometimes. I feel, um, alienated.

Barry: I FEEL LIKE SHIT!

Leader of the group: Barry! We do not tolerate outbursts! Carry on, [P].

[P]: I feel like shit sometimes too. I feel like everything is, uh, fake, airbrushed, unreal. Like, this room, these plastic chairs…where did you get these chairs?

[a girl at the back of the room raises her hand]

Leader of the group: Yes, Samantha?

Samantha: I don’t get it. Is he saying that he wants society to return to some mythical point when men were men and stank of sweat and everyone appreciated them for it and everything was made from the finest materials and lasted 600 years and women all worshipped the penis and…

Barry: I HAVE A PENIS!

Leader of the group: Barry!

Samantha: …and bar fights took place every night and everyone went hunting at the weekend and drank their own piss…

Barry: I FEEL LIKE SHIT!

Leader of the group: Barry, for fucks sake!

Samantha: …and there was no consumerism, like, no one ever bought anything and…

[a slow handclap starts up in the room]

Barry: ACKNOWLEDGE ME!!

Leader of the group: That’s quite enough! Everyone! Samantha! Barry! [Regaining composure] I think we should close the session for today

[a girl sitting to his left raises her hand]

Leader of the group: What is it, Beth?

Beth: I know you said we’re done and all, but I wanted to ask a question

Leader of the group: Is it a sensible question?

Beth: Oh yes, quite sensible

Leader of the group: Go ahead, then

Beth: I know we don’t, like, judge here, and we all appreciate [P]’s honesty, but I just wanted to ask: shouldn’t he, um, just grow the fuck up?

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FACTOTUM BY CHARLES BUKOWSKI

[P]: Hello everyone. I am honoured to have with me today Mr Charles Bukowski, eminent author and poet. I’d like to ask you about your novel Factotum, your second work I believe. Firstly, if you don’t mind, will you try and sum it up for those who have not yet encountered it?

Charles: Drink!

[P]Haha, very succinct, Charles; and spot on, I must say. But a lot of your work deals with alcohol consumption, so how does Factotum differ from your other novels?

Charles: Tits!

[P]I can’t argue with that, Mr Bukowski; there are definitely tits in Factotum. I’m interested, actually, in the portrayal of women in the book. You are often accused of misogyny; what would you say to those people who, after reading Factotum, might complain that you write about women in an entirely negative way?

Charles: Whores!

[P]: Is that the women in your book or the people who complain about the way that you write about women?

Charles: Booze!

[P]: Ok. One of the most interesting aspects of your work is, for me, the focus on working class life. Your protagonist, Chinaski, drifts from one menial job to another. I expect that you have something meaningful to say about the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the people with the lowest status in our society. What are your thoughts, Charles?

Charles: Balls!

[P]Oh, indeed. Well, that concludes our interview Mr Bukowski. I’d just like to say, before we part, that there is a scene in your book where Chinaski is forced to receive a blowjob from a woman that he is entirely unattracted to; and there is a line in the text, which I think is perhaps your best, which is something like, If I come I will never forgive myself. That made me laugh so much, Charles; and I’d like to thank you for that one moment of mirth, because laughter is precious, even though the rest of your book made me want to take a stiletto heel to my eyes. Thank you for talking to me, Charles Bukowski.

Charles: Cunt!

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FIFTY SHADES OF GREY BY E.L. JAMES

I am scared. Something, something…significant has happened. I’m writing this from my bedroom, only it’s not my bedroom, it is…different. The door is locked and barricaded, from the outside; the window has, ah, disappeared. There was a window once, of that I am sure. My bed too is not where it was. Where is it? I don’t know. Maybe he knows. Yes. My possessions…they were all here yesterday. Now: nothing. No. Not nothing, there is something. There is him. Ah, yes, he is here, even though I cannot see him. And then there is the snow. I don’t know how, but it is snowing in here. Yes. And it is starting to settle, like a thin gip of vomit on the surface of toilet water. Yesterday. No. Go back. Two days ago. Yes. Two days ago I was at work. Ah, that’s right, I was at work tidying up my desk when I happened upon a series of small drawings. A series: four. All clearly named by the, uh, artist, if you want to call him that. Or her. More likely a he, I think, rather than a she. I’m cold; it’s cold in here. The snow is slowly filling up the room, like an egg timer. I am trapped in a giant egg timer, his egg timer. This is his work, of that I am sure. I must continue. Four drawings. All original. By which I mean that they were…are…drawings of things that I had…have…never seen before. Magical creatures: four. In terms of quality, or skill, the little drawings are…were…basic…rudimentary, but display…displayed…some kind of, ah, charm…some ability. Ability. Yes. By which I mean that the things looked like actual things. Magical things. Yes. Things not of this world. Yes, yes. Of the four, uh, drawings…or illustrations…yes…of the four one stood out, like an extravagantly swollen and vibrantly red tumour. The title or the name of this, yes, this character is…was…is Penis Body Gremlin.

Image

You may laugh. I can imagine you laughing. Or smirking. Yes. I laughed. I couldn’t stop. No. Long after it had stopped being funny…I still laughed. Helplessly. Sadly. Now. Still laughing, somewhat. Even though I don’t want to. No. I locked the drawings away in my desk for safe keeping. A premonition, maybe. No. For sharing, with my colleagues. I picked up my things, my work things, my coat. I was leaving, it was time to leave. I left…the building. I walked home. Pace: brisk. At my front door, the door to my flat. No. At the security door, the ground-floor door to the apartment complex. I check my pockets and I discover…I realise…that I have left my keys…at work. A disaster. Ah. No. Not a disaster, but a disappointment…an irritation. I have to go back. Laughing, despite myself. Not wanting to laugh. But thinking: Penis Body Gremlin. Yes. This is the work of P.B. Gremlin. Ha. Silliness. The next day, by which I mean yesterday, I felt as though, uh, something…yes…some thing was watching me. Is watching me. Now. Still. That thing was…is…directing events…me. First: I sleep through my alarm. Yesterday, I did. I’m late for work. Very. Ah. And then I fall over, on my way to work. I trip…am tripped…by some thing. Graze my knee. At work: my tongue, thick…I cannot speak…cannot…communicate. Are you ok? They ask me. Many times. I knock things over. Clumsy. Ah. Sleepy, too. I have been poisoned by…Are you ok? I sit on the desk, like a flirtatious secretary. And I won’t move…cannot…no. You’re not ok. No. I am sent home. Early. I can’t helping…help thinking, I mean…about…him. About: Penis Body Gremlin. Yes. It is…him. I know it. I can feel him…around me…inside me, almost. Ah. At home: I lock the door. Hide. In my room. What can I do? Madness, ah. Yes. This is madness. This is what madness feels like. Ah, so be it. There is some comfort in that. At least. No. In my room…yesterday. I sleep. I fall, plummet, into a deep sleep. The world disappears. This is how it works: sleep. Sometimes your reality is replaced by, ah, another reality: a dream. I dream of…it’s not a dream. But, yes, him, it is him. I dream of P.B. Yes. Penis Body Gremlin. And he speaks, to me. He calls me boy. Of course. He says: I was there. Always. I have always been there, before time. I will be here, after time. I want to ask, yes: who? He senses this, my thought. I was there when the first man scrawled the first cock on the wall of his cave; I was there in every toilet in every bar and pub in the world when on those walls too were scribbled and scrawled words and pictures in my honour; I was there when Jackie Collins put her glossy fingernail to the typewriter key; I was there when Lil Jon sang ‘to the window, to the wall, till the sweat drops down my balls;’ oh, yes, I was there in the mouth of Lenny Bruce, in the brain of Rabelais. I am the Prince of pricks! the Commander of cunts! I am P.B. Gremlin, the Genii of the dirty lamp! Rub that lamp, boy; oh rub that lamp, my boy! I want to ask: why? Why me, why now? My greatest achievement, boy, my finest puppet is E.L. James. Those books! Oh, the fun I have had! Millions of people sniffing at my odiferous turds! But, the momentum is starting to flag, the cocks starting to flop, the vaginas drying up. Oh, the arid vaginas! Look at Goodreads; the top rated review: over thirteen thousand ‘likes’ and only one star! This won’t do. I charge you, my boy, the greatest amateur internet reviewer, to write a review, a review to end all reviews! I want to clarify: you’re asking me to write a review of 50 Shades of Grey? I want you to write a review of 50 Shades of Grey, boy! I want you to laud it, laud the book like the light that first shone on the world! I want to ask: even though I have never read it? Not one word? I believe in you, boy! You don’t need to read it; in fact I advise you, just between you and I, not to read it! Go on Amazon, use the ‘Look Inside’ feature; you’ll find all you need there! But a review, boy, a review of the highest order, a persuasive, gushing, but well-written and intelligent review! That’s the ticket, boy. Oh, what a ticket! The entire world: perverted by my message! Dancing with me: Penis Body Gremlin! No one will have ordinary sexual relations ever again! Sex defined by fear and manipulation, oh yes, we will convince the whole world that this is enticing, that this is exciting! I want to ask: what if I refuse? You won’t refuse, boy. I have you in my grubby paw now! You are infected! He…disappears. I, ah, I wake up. Yes. Today, that is. A dream? Perhaps. No. It was not a dream, because I am here. In my…room. And I can’t leave…and…the window…and…the snow. The voice: his. I can hear it, resounding. In my head. Everywhere. It tells me: your time is running out. You must write the review. Oh, that’s the ticket! The review to end all reviews! And I know that I have 24 hours, to, ah, write…the review. So. Here I am. Facing…the computer. My fingers: working. Fingers…frozen and, uh, wet. My body temperature…decreasing. Desperation: increasing. Yes. I can’t do it. I will fail. But I must write…something. This. And as you read it. You will hear: a sound. The sound of laughing. Mine. And, yes, his. And if you read the book…What sound, then? That, that sound, will be the sound of Emily Pankhurst spinning, madly, in her grave.