The novel is dead: Long live the novel

I think it was Will Self who in the past has made several claims the novel is dead, usually when he is publicizing his latest novel? He is not alone. Many have said something similar, often for a similar reason. It’s an old rort. The look at me novelist engaging in a little self-flagellation over his chosen craft – the novel – following up with, and here look at my latest – you got it – novel.

I believe in the slow novel. The slow-dying novel. Perhaps the problem is not that the novel is dead, rather we are being ‘entertained’ by as good as brain or industry or novel-dead novelists or ‘deader than deader’ bought novelists. It’s not entirely their fault – they have been led down through this novel is dead garden path so long they couldn’t help but drink at the poisoned novel is dead well – lured there by you got it – money for the next novel.

We still live in an age of publishing which is owned and controlled largely by giant mixed-media conglomerates using consolidation-techniques of the late 20th century dribbling over into now in publishing that seems to have a project to kill off diversity in publishing.

Using the constricted market, the consolidated conglomerate run industry has been made easier business – fewer less diverse products, selling way more copies of each un-diverse novel, creating their ‘stars’ who weave the same old same un-diverse old rope you find in any shopwindow of limited product-range where variety is only now a word on a magazine cover.

What would happen if new-well-developed craft appeared on the front bookshop-paid-for-by-conglomerates table. Would readers have a nervous breakdown?

Instead of fewer and fewer choices by fewer and fewer voices which logically will one day be one – one publisher with one author on one table with a zillion books – the same book sold over and over and over for centuries. Sound good? It does to me. All that free time not having to say: when am I going to read a book again? I read it! Ten years ago. What a relief!

My once doctoral research looked at the period when digitisation once offered a chance at democratisation over the oldie-big-corporation-run publishing industry.

The big players killed off one such possible – Gemstar. The owner – Yuen. Where is he now BTW? He didn’t look the history of Allen Lane – psst drop the price – but Yuen didn’t look or didn’t hear.

Maybe he was too busy being cosyied up to – and cosying up himself to them of course – hearing one or more of the big players say with a smile: come in on old boy. It’s seductive – money for the new novel. Have a chair in our club where the good old boys and girls enveloped Mr Gemstar with ideas of ebooks and ereaders as luxury-items. Leave it to us old boy to run the market and it will flock to you, old boy.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2002/oct/09/newscorporation.rupertmurdoch

p99 ‘Publishing: Principles and Practice’ Sage Publications UK 2011

What noise does a Penguin make? Let’s all sound like Penguins for a moment – in 1935. 6p of Penguin chanting in old money. Not six shillings for old hard covers. Allen Lane ‘the bugger that ruined the trade’ – who made the paperback boom. And did it boom – like a thousand penguins in the snow and ice arriving at the ocean. The paperback which we all grew to love and carry around everywhere. We love hardcovers too of course – but could we as well have grown to love an ebook that stood for democratised literature?

And so with the not so new digital now not so great industry the offshoot of paperbacks that once dominated the market and used the word – democratisation –  then – democratisation of information – small companies springing up all over the auction – only to dry up and become only Amazon and Apple – in the main – and bingo the digital revolution which supported literary ideas-of-reader-choice – as any endangered species in any jungle you care to roam into has to be supported or dies from neglect or poisoning or will die – shot between the eyes – under the reasoning ‘let’s make it all a smaller more manageable-market with the management-cry of more profit yes for us. Good old boys and good old girls’ culturally watching over – you got it – the endangered – nearly dead and or dying novel.

Exposure by Robert Bilott

Robert Bilott’s ‘auto-documentary’ book, Exposure, on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, is a sobering look at the immorality of corporate America of recent times. In a searing study of how greed drives so much economic activity in America these days, Robert Bilott’s personally and legally revealing work was first made known to me when I recently saw the film Dark Waters – a Todd Hayes (directed) and Mark Ruffalo (produced and lead role acted) – a fine film, worthy of several nominations in this year Hollywood hoopla round. It received none BTW. I think we get the picture.

Bilott’s book tells us the whole story. It begins with Rob Bilott’s ‘unusual’ jumping the fence from his law firm’s usual corporate defence work to take on a plaintiff’s case for an angry lone quite desperate West Virginia farmer, Earl Tennant, who contacted him, then showed up at his office carrying a mountain of evidence.

What Rob Bilott discovered demonstrated how Du Pont had been for years dumping poisonous waste from its Washington Works plant at Parkersburg, West Virginia, into landfills which leached into rivers, streams and ponds, killing cattle and compromising the health of many inhabitants in a wide area around the Parkersburg plant. 

His book is a story of corporate harm, demonstrating the casual and arrogant and quite ugly ease with which a powerful corporation can engage in immoral practices in the name of business as usual. Initially rebuffed by Du Pont, Bilott convinced the courts to order the company to agree to setting up an independent scientific investigation into the potential harm done by a chemical PFOA, that Du Pont used for many products, famously in Teflon, a huge worldwide profit source and spinner for the firm. 

After years of waiting for results from an exhaustive scientific study of the blood samples of nearly 70,000 people in the immediate and surrounding areas, the appointed scientific panel finally came back with findings of clear probable cause links to several major life threatening and life-altering diseases and conditions. The ruined natural water and piped-water supplies meant that many were already suffering, some dying, from these diseases and conditions. 

This story is as stunning as it has been breathtaking, a jury finally finding for a class civil action against the company – who put up a fierce and at times devious public relations & legal defence – with the plaintiffs awarded a 670 million dollar settlement against Du Pont. Du Pont appealed and appealed then in the face of the evidence folded and accepted the jury’s decision. 

This whole immoral if not statutorily felonious ‘environmental crime’ was aided and abetted by the EPA who worked in tandem with Du Pont to obfuscate and hide key facts of a chemical dumping program from the public, while Du Pont carried on its harmful activities for years, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided, where they were the town’s main employer, knowing full well all along that PFOA was an extremely dangerous substance for all life forms. 

So in summary, a fine book and a very necessary read for people who want clean land, air and water and a reasonable chance at living life without corporations poisoning them or providing them with cancer. Also for anyone who believes that honest and accountable corporate activities are a necessary right for individuals in any properly managed and democratically governed society in the 21st century. 

Without Earl Tennant bringing this to Robert Bilott’s attention and Bilott deciding to take the career risk of bringing this civil action on behalf of Earl and many others, for so many stress-filled years of his life, we may never have even heard about Du Pont’s malfeasance.

(In a run up to the class-action trial, Du Pont spun off its Washington Works plant into a new company, Chemours, in a technique many companies use to limit financial damage by placing the offending product range under another firm, that can easily be tipped in bankruptcy thus preventing a payout. After years of seeing how Du Pont operated Robert Bilott was ready for the legal tactic.)

Exposure

Reading Robert Bilott’s ‘Exposure’ on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the book in giving a great deal of legal and personal background to the story in the film Dark Waters (see below), answered a question that came to me while seeing the film: why wasn’t Bilott removed from his Ohio corporate law firm particularly as corporate defence was its main bread and butter?

I wondered how Du Pont’s power didn’t trump Bilott’s personal and moral interest in the plight of one farmer, Wilbur Earl Tennant, by simply pulling strings to give the crusading lawyer an offer he couldn’t refuse. Get out of town boyo, now. They tried. More power to Rob for his courage and dedication, and to Earl of course who started the whole process.

Rob Bilott in jumping the fence to take the plaintiff’s side against Du Pont uncovers an ugly story of corporate harm done to the community of Parkersburg and surrounding populations. The casual and arrogant ease with which this immensely powerful and rich corporation lied and cheated and eventually killed people in the pursuit of profit is as stunning as it was breathtaking (pun intended).

Working in tandem with weak and complicit authorities to hide the facts of a chemical dumping program, Du Pont knowingly carried on its ‘corporate crime’ for years and years, poisoning water supplies, the air and earth, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided by economic default, placing a virtual muzzle on anyone who dared question its activities. And I am still only half way through…more later, COVID-19 lockdown giving me valuable reading time.

Lee, JFK and Stephen King

It’s tough being a writer in this organised politically-controlled oligarchic world of ours. Publishing is a strategic asset in a stable of assets essential to a well-tuned oligarchic universe. The message whatever it is must be edited. That seems to be the last law of the universe, the one Scientists haven’t yet owned up to.

Try thwarting it and you will be edited out of existence says a footnote on the first page of the Oligarchic Manual. Try beating the system and your Sun will shine no more.

So, I guess even the great Stephen King obeys this largely hidden law of our Oligarchic Universe. (I say great because book sales obviously equate with greatness, right?) It has nothing to do with well-oiled sales machines. Sales = Greatness and vice versa.

So, I went, I must say with hope, to read 11.22.63 by the undoubtedly great Stephen King. And what did I find?

Well, my mother always said: if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. But when did I ever listen to my mother?

What on earth was King thinking about?

Not the truth clearly. His novel is fiction, okay. Only he put some real people in it, no? Like Lee Harvey. Poor old very dead Lee Harvey. The man who some people keep saying was guiltier than his own imagined sin. Lee Harvey with his Carcano Model 91/38 rifle which he probably couldn’t have hit a barn door with from 100 metres, but somehow reverse-actioned Newtonian physics with a tree blocking his way, hitting a moving target, from how far was it? Killing a President.

Go figure. Many have tried. I don’t need to debate this. To my mind at least if Lee were on the sixth floor of the Book Depository that fate-filled day and fated time, he would have had more chance of hitting Parkland Hospital than the man it is claimed he murdered in the way convention says he committed this crime – the myth now co-signed by author Stephen King.

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if hers was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

Narratorial Unreliability

Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.

Catherine Lacey

Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.

Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.

The Blue Roads of Cannes

Away from the homages, special screenings, classic films, away from the red carpet ride to that palace of dreams, away from the Cinema Paradiso deep in the watery hearts of those days of ‘how it used to be before they built the new Palais.’ Away from the game before it became the game it is “guarded by thin-lipped security experts..” (Roger Ebert).

Away from: This is a business after all, bringing in hundreds of millions (billions) annually. Away from the other Cannes down in the concrete heated bowels of an airless bunker where the sharp weave themselves into tongued-tied hoarse and whispery tanglings over business fits and contracts and suits.

Away from the silver screen stars of present and past, Charles Bronson and Miss Piggy, Arnold, Bruce, Brad, Brigitte, Mel, Kirk, Michael, Woody or Penelope, away from the belle epoque hotel suites and facades, away from yachts as big as small apartment blocks stock stilled by the importance of those they house out in the wide bay, away from those gleaming bright decks, practiced sunglasses, strategic smiles, away from trained binocularists, the annual crush and cheap ticket ride along the promenading, skateboard Croisette, away from the blinding baroque plaster, the guest only dinners, friend-of-a-friend-who-knows-a-friend ticket-only beach parties, away from the clickety-click crush of pass-only photo shoots, prized seats under the balcony, away from ‘go easy I’m-not-wearing-makeup’, away from  the bright-new-glory of my-new-found-fame, those bullish, brave, belligerent and bereft smiles, away from the silent jeering, away from the exclusion zones out in the streets.

Away from get away from who-are-you-and-who-do-you-know big films and titles, away from that winnowy fame and limouey celebrity, over in the back blue road of Mediterraneanised cinema, over in – I only hole up in the dark to witness creative endeavour – over in this other plane and train load of tourist-class, over in the world you mostly will never hear talk long enough to remember how to forget, over in the altogether smaller world of Un Certain Regard, with a jury presided over by Tim Roth.

Among the yet no-so unfamous such as Benicio DEL TORO, Pablo TRAPERO, Julio MEDEM,  Elia SULEIMAN, Juan Carlos TABIO, Gaspard NOÉ et Laurent CANTET with 7 DIAS EN LA HABANA @ 2h and 5m,  four first-filmers, Brandon Cronenberg (yes, that Cronenberg) with ANTIVIRAL @ 1h and 50m, Ashim AHLUWALIA with MISS LOVELY  @ 1hr 50m, and Juan Andrés Arango with LA PLAYA @ 1h and 30m.

Roth’s own brit pack ever-repressed to boiling anger ride through names and changes in life and cinema from Dulwich to Los Angeles via works by Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Greenaway, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Nic Roeg, John Sayles, Wim Wenders, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola seems to offer interesting, experimental possibilities as what might emerge as the final choice.


	

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.

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