It's been an immensely frustrating time to be offline, given that the political world *exploded*. The MPs were hoist by their own secretive petard when the Torygraph got hold of a disk of their expenses and proceeded to have a lovely time outing people who were flipping, charging charitable donations to the taxpayer and buying duckhouses or clearing moats. Gordon Brown became the first beleaguered prime minister ever to be saved by an incredibly awful election result -- after all, why chuck your leader out off a cliff when you've no chance of winning in 2010 anyway?
When I was living in other people's houses my special project was reading bestsellers, just to try to figure out why so many people appeared to love those books. I started with a Len Deighton book -- SS-GB. I had planned to read Bomber, after reading a review of it online but SS-GB is an alternate history and I love those more than pie, were such a thing possible.
SS-GB starts from "what if Britain was invaded in the summer of 1940?" and develops a very realistic portrait of a country under occupation by the Germans. If you've read Fatherland, you'll find very obvious parallels with this earlier book, down to the pastede on yay American heroine. Robert Harris's characterisation of the women is better, Deighton's book is creepier.
Then I moved onto Martine Cole and I've been stuck there ever since. Martina Cole is one of the best-selling authors in Britain, writer of brick-like tomes about the London/Essex underworld. It started when I read this interview and wondered whether I was being a snob by not reading the books. Is the literary establishment ganging up on a female working class, wrong-side-of-the-tracks outsider?
Not really. The books are compulsive reading and yet also lousily written. Let me describe the process of reading one. You know how everyone has someone in their family -- a blousy, funny aunt, cousin or family friend, who is a marvellous raconteur. They are confident, slightly hard, maybe with a good turn of phrase, but the main thing is that when they sit down with a glass of wine to tell you a story about their dodgy mates, you listen because you know you're going to be entertained.
Reading a Martina Cole book is like that same aunt after she's got pissed. The story's still pretty good, and you have affection for the teller, but god, the longwindedness, the swearing, the repetitive and contradictory rambling. I fear that she's too important for an editor now, for someone to take her to one side and suggest that she might like to do a little more showing and a bit less telling, and keep better track of her story.
Her typical hero is a gangster from the East End or Essex. The good ones are honorable thieves, the bad ones are violent, remorseless and charming sociopaths. Women are there to be decorative or drink, mothers always smother or are drunken, and warp their families by playing favourites. Every character, with a few exceptions, is vile. Not just weak or mistaken but horrible. She tells you one thing about a character in one chapter and then contradicts it a few chapters later. The settings are seedy and there is no place for human joy at all. If you took the words ****ing and c*** out of the books, you could cut their length by 25%.
And yet... and yet I've read four of the bloody things in a fortnight. I'm going to stop now because if I don't I am going start thinking that the whole of Essex is an open sewer full of criminal nutjobs.
I wanted to link today to the most witless piece of pointless bloggery masquerading as journalism to appear on the Guardian website since, well, the last time there was a witless piece of pointless bloggery yadda yadda yadda but they have taken it down. parthenia14 yesterday linked to the ongoing horror that is Observer Woman or Women or whatever the hell they're calling it. Alas, it is against the law to coat their entire office in banoffee pie or put them in stocks outside King's Cross.
I do not want to know the answer to the question "how many times can K watch episode 5 of Being Human -- "WHO WANTS SOME OF MY CHAIR!!?" -- as I suspect the number is very large.
Happy July 4th (as of five minutes ago) to those of you who celebrate