"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Monday, December 6, 2010

QMBC VIII: Lights out in Wonderland

The meeting was prefaced with word that one of our number would not be in attendance at this book discussion. Although the eyebrows were de-raised immediately upon the news that the unattendee would be McCarthy.

For reasons best known only to himself and a small elite, his modus operandi is to front every meeting with the suggestion that he will be unable to attend. This time was different though.

Let it not be said that there isn't scope for someone to prioritise another event over a book club meeting and with that in mind, McCarthy excused himself from the night's proceedings in order to partake in a “Frontline”. This phrase will henceforth refer to any event which, with good reason, has seen a member being double booked and have to make the unfortunate decision to not attend a meeting.

So with seven meetings under the belt what would tonight's affair reveal...in an homage to the Japanese leg of the book, we convened initially in Sushi King on Dawson St. However, the conversation was hampered as Paddington was sitting in a separate corner of the restaurant as he needed to finish the book.

All were in attendance except for Syme who cut it exceedingly close to the 7 o'clock “poor show” in turning up to the meeting proper.

So at 7 bells, in the Duke public house the meeting was drawn to order.


Syme notably referred to the book club as being more than men, well the minutes are becoming more than simply words.
At the end of Cobra, McGavin enthusiastically commandeered the minutes (not unlike Avenger grabbing the ladder to escape the drug baron). And then much like the Cobra he took those notes and retreated into his hole and nothing was heard from him again.

With that fresh in the mind of everyone present it was stated that there were “too many poor shows for words” for McGavin in his minuting abilities.

On top of this, he brought no notes and no notebook. To add further insult, his attempts to draw up the rules of the book club have gone up in much the same way as Cobra's personal supply of baking powder. On foot of this, we record two poor shows for McGavin in quick succession and draw a line under this debacle. And now to the book Putains!

McCarthy had thought forward enough to telex his minutes to Webb who duly deputised presented McCarthy's opinions to the gathered and what a treat they were.

Quoting, broadly, directly:
“...by the time you’re hearing these words who knows what decadence I will have been witness to in the fabled RTE green room during these, the last days of Rome. What levels of nimbus can be attained by mere mortals roaming halls whence Sharon Ni Bheolain has inhaled air and, perhaps even exhaled sweet lady-perfume from down-below....

But I digress… and to the task at hand my thoughts return. By page 5 of LOIW I feared we might be dealing with the most pretentious tosh of all the QMBC choices to date...., but by page 315 I would quite happily have started over again.

This book is almost an allegorical textbook for our times and little wonder that it’s written by an Irish-based author, if not an Irishman. P.’s 266-269 in particular should be extracted, adapted and writ large across this land…

'All anything did throughout our lives was feed off us and us off it, and our currency was money. Charlie came to Dublin because of it, left Dublin because of it, Bertie rose because of it and declined because of it, Seanie, Brendan, Fingers, Dunne et al drowned in their own hubris, if not pecuniary, because of it, and damaged us because of it, we all chased the rainbow because of it and are chastened now because of it, Chopra, Trichet and assorted loan sharks landed on our shores because of it and departed, the shackles having being securely tied, because of it, but now, hopefully the slate is wiped clean because of it, and we can rise again, afresh, in spite of it…'

That’s my polemic for the day…”

McCarthy's addition was widely applauded. In fact, Clay admitted his comments about “pretentious tosh” were music to his ears. Clay confessed that when he was reading the same first five pages, he imagined that McCarthy might be wiping tears of happiness from his face at having found a soulmate suitable of sharing his tent WTSHTF.

Having digested McCarthy's discerning yet disturbingly graphic review, (paragraphs have been omitted above to protect our overworked legal department from a slew of libel claims), there was a lull in the group. McCarthy was off watching a master debate of some key issues affecting this country. Perhaps some of the silence was filled with thoughts that if it wasn't for souls like McCarthy then this country might be lost forever.

Cutting through that silence like a dri buddi cuts through moisture McGavin suggested that McCarthy probably “got off” on this book. Whoosh! We were away!

Jameson got the literary tone back on track by suggesting that the book was worthy of a reread already which was met with a couple of nods. This was very much a counterweight to McGavin's position which was that this book was “like reading rock”.
The seeds were sown for a good discussion.

Opinions were offered at a high level with discussions about which of the three sections were most enjoyable. Opinions were divided. McGavin's was confused.

The book lends itself naturally to being split into three distinct parts – being those based in England, Japan and Germany. It was observed that the tale is all a grand allegory. England encapsulates the unhappiness of our protagonist at society's materialistic and shallow nature. The Japanese are basically bat shit nuts in the pursuit of experiences over all else (the opposite of the English who prize physical possessions) and then the Germans represent some sort of idealised nirvana that we all need to aspire to.

Clay, not at all muted by having to double as minute-taker, started off with his (usual?) position of regarding the book as pretentious. Although he did admit that he thoroughly enjoyed the book as it shared much of the deluded simplicity of Sebastian “Gingerman” Dangerfield's sojourns around Dublin.

Webb, having suggested this book, added his first thoughts with the much-agreed-with idea that the book has a slow beginning and lacks personality initially. It takes time to get going, although for some the pace was too much.

Not for the first time on the night McGavin questioned events in the book. He queried if the capitalists had been (**spoiler alert**) murdered. It was taken for granted by the assembled that the inclusion of a large amount of explosives in a pressurised plane that we are told would explode over the Baltic would probably directly or at the least indirectly lead to the death of its occupants.

The discussion moved from there to whether or not Brockwell had a plan. It was agreed by all, to various degrees, that he was not in control at any point, being little more than a drug addled wreck. In what was probably the deepest part of the discussion for the night, Jameson suggested that Pierre, in writing this anti-capitalist book was as much escaping from the modern world as tearing it apart. Webb agreed and thought that Pierre, as a poet, is intrinsically anti-capitalist.

This was generally agreed to, but Clay, always alert to literary attempts to trick him, went further and stated that the first few chapters are “fairly standard, oft-repeated anti-purchasing-society trype”. It is unclear how many “anti-purchasing-society” books Clay has read but he was a match for Pierre's duplicity.

Clay, it was noted, was seemingly unable to enjoy the book about a guy chasing the nimbus around the world without feeling under attack from the author. This was the first time Clay attempted to make a “cohegent” point - the first of many on the night.

(“Cohegency”, apparently, being a super-compound taking the most salient characteristics from points that are at the same time both coherent and cogent. Although, any time which Clay hoped to save by using a new word was lost in trying to remember the two words that he had used to create the new one.)

Webb brought the story of the night on by saying that the book really only starts to get interesting when Brockwell starts his adventure. There was discussion then about Brockwell as a protagonist. It was agreed that he wasn't driving events as much as being carried along on the nimbus wave. This was met with nods from all. Indeed Clay and some others saw many benefits to having a lifestyle, nay a society, driven by pursuit of the nimbus.

Everyone agreed that the Brockwell character is of limited intelligence – a fact he recognises himself by saying that to outwit his contempories he merely only needs to go to the second nearest town after escaping rehab and then when he attempts to kill himself in the second nearest lake. Although, given the low regard Brockwell (and Pierre) have for modern society in general, how he manages to outwit society (except for the idealised Germans) is perhaps just another slur on our backward iPod focused world.

This discussion was detoured again by McGavin who had become confused by the scene in the lake. He resigned himself completely then by admitting to all. “I didn't get the book.” His further attempt to summarise the book as being about a depressed guy who goes on a bit of a drunken adventure appeared to have been on the money as far as Clay was concerned. Clay's subsequent high rating for this book is based largely on the adventure aspect of the story rather than any “pseudo-intellectual” commentary on society.

We further discussed Brockwell and agreed he is a fairly pathetic character. Any views on the world he sees should be considered within that light. He can't function within normal society, so therefore regards it with a mix of confusion, distrust and disgust. With that in mind, “getting” the book when it's main protagonist was so incapable of doing anything constructive or function within the realms of normal society is a difficult task. Although admittedly McGavin was the only person who struggled with this. McGavin was further antagonised by Pierre who named one of his characters “Smuts”. There was some discussion about the origins for this name. South African apparently. Paddington was able to locate this information on his phone which he had been using non-stop since it arrived in the post several months earlier.

McGavin rather took up the gauntlet of being the opposite of the night and thought there was “too much pointless detail” in the book. Clay was able to empathise with McGavin as he appears to have wrestled with this work in much the same way that Clay struggled with Grapes of Wrath (giving it what he considered to be the correct rating of 33/83). Clay restated his position that everyone should have struggled with the Grapes of Wrath. As for the rest of the group, no one was sure how McGavin was so puzzled by a book that at its most superficial level was about a guy who liked drinking and chasing the nimbus and who tries to help one of his friends. McGavin further suggested that Webb had missold this book. The pitch was defended by several as having been on the money. Having been reminded of the pitches of QMBC VII, Clay took this opportunity to (again!) mourn the missed opportunity of not having selected Jameson's pitch that night - a book set in the Korengal valley in Afghanistan.

Japan and Hentai and The QMBC
It was time we met this subject with the maturity it deserves. Unfortunately, nothing could be minuted here that could allow a gentleman to retain any sense of dignity having discussed the Japanese fascination with all things tentacled. Suffice to say we haven't exhausted the discussion.

The restaurant scene was regaled with much gusto. In summary, Keiko (a young Japanese girl) who is innocently referred to as having “imprinted like a duckling” on Smuts is then very graphically imprinted by Smuts in the restaurant fish tank.
Few images could more differentiate the disparate societies detailed in the book than the octopus. We are reminded of Paul the Octopus who lived in Germany and was, having attached himself to a particular box, able to predict the result of an international football match. In the restaurant scene we again see an octopus that although not interested in sport is not completely dissimilar to his German cousin.
And that's all I have to say about that.

McGavin got us refocused on the literature saying that when he thinks of the language it makes him unhappy. Webb countered by suggesting that Pierre is a wonderful writer. This sentiment acquired more support than McGavin's. We discussed in some detail then the notions of nimbus and limbo. It was agreed that both of these have more of a context than any exact definition. Jameson liked the concept of the cone of the nimbus – that the higher you get the more danger you have of coming down. No doubt in the silence that followed everyone was lost in remembering some occasions where there were falls from the cone. Character building. Syme recalled the description of the Germans celebrating at the stall who although not up to Brockwell's level of imbibition still managed to get their own nimbus going which even Brockwell was able to appreciate.

Webb commented on the writing style by saying that it made for beautiful reading and that this book deserved a reread for the language alone. It is hard to argue that Pierre doesn't have some talent for descriptive narrative.

The subincision moment:
“After painstaking excavation I manage to pull out a diamantine latticework sleeve, a perfect little cast of my nostril, still candied with cocaine and set with tiny rubies of blood. I pop it into my mouth and jolt into the day.”

(***Do not read the above, if you're of a sensitive disposition***).

This section both shocked and enthralled.

Syme mentioned some more amusing imagery that when Brockwell was at his lowest point he found solace in chocolate milk and the fact that it could make him look harmless to passers-by. Clay greatly enjoyed the description of Brockwell clothes shopping. Syme particularly liked a related scene, which emphasises that the whole book takes place in a matter of days, when at the height of nimbus, he finds the hat he bought a few days before and recalls “simpler times”. Brockwell is surely an idiot.

McGavin was able to find some affinity to Brockwell in his experience in IKEA as he had been lost there not long before. Pierre does go a few steps further to suggest that any place that welcomes an IKEA “must have a taste for mass rape”. Again his metaphors are not something the reader expects.

The Germans regard IKEA as a place to obtain the basics of life – we're told that without it, Berlin would be sleeping on the floor. The Germans that Pierre introduces us to represent a society that has seen it all before. The German society outlined in the book is presumably fairly idealised though. The largest economy in Europe isn't powered by family owned sausage shops. Pierre's message seems to be that society could learn a lot from looking at his view of how society should function. No doubt, the Germans' care for one another and lack of regard for commercialism are things which we should all aspire to. Living life like the Germans that Brockwell meets may not be the best way to live one's life, but in Pierre's eyes at least, it's certainly not the wurst.

Theoretical no doubt, but it is perhaps worth recalling to mind that the 20th century German history that Pierre does so quickly breeze over is not really a path that all nations should aspire to following in search of one day being able to regard IKEA as merely a place to obtain a bed rather than a defining of your being. Pierre has his own brand of flat pack history and when he's finished there are some bits left over that he didn't need.

Everyone enjoyed Brockwell's concern for his diary when he attempts to kill (***spoiler alert***) himself in the lake. We recalled the incident with the train ticket from the start. The ticket was for the 9.36 service but the train that arrives is an earlier train running late. This fact is enough to ensure that he wants to keep his notebook water proof when he commits suicide. A last insult for the perceived idiocy of the society he left or perhaps further emphasising how useless Brockwell is as a functioning individual?

Webb regarded Brockwell as somewhat of a modern hero in that he is “shit at everything”. It was agreed to somewhat that he wanted to be a capitalist but just wasn't very good at it. He is perhaps the right character to pull apart the phoniness of the past decade. Smuts although more driven by some career goals is arguably autistic and far from a model employee.

Clay then explored further some of the issues that he has with the author personally. He disliked the fact that Pierre, for example, pokes fun at the sort of society that creates in people a necessity to waste their time selecting a good sandwich, as if so much personal happiness depends on that. This really struck a nerve with Clay, who rather oddly has bespoke sandwiches made daily so this problem doesn't specifically apply but he has enough familiarity with the issue to regard Pierre as being a bit of a prick for making such a point of it – it not being the worst thing in the world to want to have a tasty lunch. Although no one per-say agreed with him out loud, the silence that followed was sufficient to suggest that the QMBC thought it was a fairly “cohegent” point.

McGavin tried to draw comparisons with THWATF. Jameson agreed mentioning an element of rebirth in Brockwell drowning and then returning as a hero.
Jameson provided some background on our author - DBC Pierre. Webb further added that he likes his drink and lives somwhere in the wilds of Ireland. Clay suggested that the hippy is living here for tax reasons. Although he did temper his anti-Pierre sentiments for a moment and added that it's understandable that artists of limited earning potential should receive favourable tax treatment on incomes which may not continue long term. At this point, he mentioned how Roger Moore had left England in the late 70s due to the tax regime of the time.

Syme got us back on track by stating that Marius, (the wine which features so prominently in so many of the most memorable debauchery scenes), is real. This shocked several of the group. Syme, emboldened by an oppurtunity to regain some lost group respect following the THWATF debacle then lost some of his newly found respect when he further stated that Templehof was also real. It being an airport somehow had less awe inspiring effect on the group than confirmation that a seemingly mythical wine fermented from grapes that have trapped the pheromones of virginal girls pleasuring themselves twixt the vines was actually real. There was a pause as the group waited briefly with bated breath for other “real updates” from Syme.
See below an image of Templehof airport being used for the purpose. Presumably the planes parked beside the airport are also real. Syme will provide an update at the next meeting.
Clay wondered why the collection of capitalist fat-cats were so obsessed with being served the most elaborate meals but were utterly incapable of appreciating same. Jameson & Paddington suggested this was the raw fulfillment of capitalism and that they were all just on a power trip.

“Facts” McGavin enquired about the cost of attending the night in Templehof - a handful of diamonds. There followed the obligatory discussion of Blood Diamond and the myriad problems of obtaining weapons to “fight the government troops”. We returned to topic with an in-depth discussion of the most debauched feast imaginable. There was much discussion of the different courses in particular the contents of the snake's stomach. Jameson particularly like the excessiveness of the tiger toothpick. The minutes were suspended, again, as particular scenes and combinations of activities were discussed in detail. Paddington and McGavin stated some surprise that Brockwell was able to observe the scenes with such detachment. It was agreed that everyone involved was of an appropriate age despite some stated concerns. Regarding Brockwell's detachment, Syme did add the KO to this point that he is shocked to the point that he commits mass murder or is at the least an accessory to it.

Following so much excess, everyone appreciated the irony of the Basque sitting after the event enjoying chips amongst the plebeian people. It provided a nice end to the Basque and Thomas' roles in the adventure, although perhaps the ending was too tidy for some.

There followed a number of discussions where, amongst other things, McGavin pondered the following: what happened to the stewardesses in the plane; the origins of Morris dancing as being Moorish dancing; he further didn't understand why there are blank pages at the end of the book; he stated that although Brockwell is not intelligent, the author of the book is. Webb was quick to enquire here if Pierre should have written himself into the book?
Returning to the confusion of the lake scene, McGavin's further admission that he thought Brockwell's brother had taken over after he drowned himself in the lake felt like the resignation of a man truly defeated by a work of literature. Finding some common ground, Webb observed that some valid points had been made but that many of them did not appear to be about the book.
McGavin did comment at the end that he felt victimised because he didn't like the book. Yes.

A lesson here for all members – if anyone wants to put forward a contrarian position, defend it well. Give no quarter, expect none in return.

And now... much like the iPod that Brockwell so detests, we shuffled onward to our obligatory one sentence summaries.

McCarthy: Great score for a great book….Whoosh…

McGavin: If my nimbus were wifi, this book would be no wonder LAN.

Jameson: Like flying by concorde.

Paddington: (quoting from phone) A sensuous ode but yet morality amidst amorality – food for thought.

Webb: DBC Pierre shows himself to be a master of the nimbus by producing a rare unicorn of a book.

Syme: It grew on me, a conical experience.

Clay: Broadly, it was a very good book.

The Scores:
Atticus McCarthy: 68/83
Interestingness 13/20
QuinceyMorrisness 15/20
Action 8/10
Execution 15/20
Unputdownableness 7/10
Discussableness 10/13
Forgetableness 0/-20

Mycroft Webb: 65/83
Characters 14/16
Well writteness 15/15
Action 8/15
Interestingness 12/15
Unputdownableness 16/22

Carl Jameson: 74/83
Gingerman + 3

Tiger McGavin: 41/83
Interestingness 8/15
Well writteness 11/15
QuinceyMorrisness 5/15
Unputdownableness 8/20
Action 3/10
Sexiness 6/8

William Clay: 60/83
QuinceyMorrisness 10/16
Interestingness 12/15
Well writteness 10/15
Action 10/15
Unputdownableness 18/22

Xavier Paddington: 72/83
QuinceyMorrisness 11/15
Interestingness 17/20
Well writteness 20/20
Unputdownableness 18/20
Food for thought 6/8

Whitby Syme: 63/83
Plot 15/20
Execution 19/20
Characters 14/20
Food for thought 6/10
Extra points 9/13

This gives Lights out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre a very respectable 63.29 out of 83.

And now before the pitches, I'd like to take this opportunity to editorialise....

Long book syndrome, Putains!
The death knell for any suggestion is to be tarred with this weighty monicker!
Whatever the book club is capable of getting through - and with the scars of the THWATF still fresh in many minds - we're capable of most any literary tome.... EXCEPT that is, of something which may be regarded as “long”.
It's all fine to mock others and their understandings or misunderstandings of any literary work but woe betide anyone who dares suggest a book that might be regarded as having too many pages of too small a print.
Like a 9-year-old competing in a readathon, Granny's generous 20 pence per book isn't going to get us the sponosred yo-yo if we're stuck trying to get through Rainbow Six (which is a fine book if a little on the detailed side – Clancy, perchance another chapter on the two snipers competing over 1,000 rounds of ammunition after having had different types of muesli for breakfast?!).
We rely on democratic means to select each book, but in no democracy is someone excluded from standing because they're too tall!
In summary, excluding long books from the QMBC library does lead to our library being considerably shorter.

I trust that with the addition of this editorial and bringing this issue to the fore, the club might find itself mature enough to consider a literary work without stouping to such enquirying questions as,
“Is that font size 12? SIZE 10!?!? Fuck you Dostoyeskey!”

And now to the nominations:
McCarthy: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Webb: The spy who came in from the cold by John le Carré

Clay: The Tiger: A true story of vengeance and survival by John Valliant

Jameson: Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Syme: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Paddington: Shogun by James Clavell

Survivor's club by Ben Sherwood
The Annotated Alice in Wonderland by Martin Gardner & Lewis Carroll

McGavin: The Selected Words of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

The votes:

Winner by a whisker: Syme with A Tale of Two Cities.

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