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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Potts and pans

What's with it with book reviews?  Either they are timid, or puffery, or daggers drawn, or umbrellas tipped with poison, or - well. they are rarely subtle, complex, and objective, that's for darn sure.  Anyway, a few have been making the news, or been in the air, these last weeks.  Robert Potts, the critic, scholar and editor, reviewed Don Paterson's Rain, from Faber, with rigorous glee, in the TLS.  It was a carefully researched rethink that showed the Scotsman obsessed with doppelgangers, twins and the shadow self (a long tradition started by RL Stevenson) was basically like a member of Spinal Tap.  Perhaps reviewers should drop Spinal Tap references - they have become a little tired.  They tend to turn reviews up to 11 a little too easily.  Still, this Pottsian revisionism was noteworthy for being an openly dissenting view - most sentient reviewers kow-tow to Paterson as if he were a little god fallen from the heavens onto Gilligan's Island.

So, refreshing.  And then comes along Terry Eagleton, who seems to revel in a slippery tone that can veer from humour to smarts in seconds flat - which is ironic, because essentially he critiques Craig Raine's new novel, in the LRB, for being humorous and over-intelligent in a way that emphasized Martian-style simile, mouths, and intellectual tosh; he also complained of an over-attention paid to female nether parts, especially of the anal kind.  In general he felt the novel was soulless, and lacking in a moral vision, instead, focused on amoral faithless sex fiends.  One wonders how Eagleton would have reviewed Lolita, another sexually nihilistic satire; or indeed Lucky Jim, also filled with empty blockheads mouthing literary jargon.  Marxists tend not to appreciate style for its own sake.

Does Eagleton like Tarr by Wyndham Lewis?  That being said, Raine - a major British poet of the 80s - may not be a great novelist, lord knows.  But does a godless Marxist constitute a lord? I like a lot of TG's writing, but sometimes it gets too popularist, and the jokes jar.  What seems notable here is the thrill of seeing big beasts tracked to their lairs.  It speaks of daring, and of an establishment willing to be shaken a bit. Or to have some of its bushes beaten.  To mix a metaphor.
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