Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Chimp lit

I'm not a great fan of fiction. Rather like the theatre, the hit rate isn't high enough for me to think of it as a reliable and good value source of entertainment.

The last novel I read, Netherland - which received almost universally favourable reviews - was disappointing, the more so as it was an intriguing and unusual proposition: a novel featuring a Dutch banker and his adventures with immigrant cricketers in post-9/11 New York.

However, I found it inaccurate in details, unevenly written, and self-indulgently didactic and ruminative. Elliptical but with nothing much in the gaps. Worse, it lacked emotional credibility, and too obviously strained for an off-beat profundity that in the end felt unremarkably generic. (That would be a 'no' from me then).

But the novel I'm reading now, Me, Cheeta, is great. It's a parody of the Hollywood memoir by Tarzan's best mate (not Jane; pictured below). Sort of David Niven's memoirs as told by Bob Evans*...but as a chimp. It was nominated for the Booker yesterday.

It made me realise that of the contemporary novels I've read, the ones that featured chimps have all been good: Brazzaville Beach, Great Apes and this one. It might take a chimp and a typewriter close to eternity to write the works of Shakespeare but the reverse appears to be a much more promising theoretical proposition. I think our own subjectivity - at least as it's represented in the contemporary novel - has become a bit boring.

So, roll on a new genre, chimp lit. It'll need its own prize, of course: how about the Fyffes Prize for Simian-Related Fiction, or for short, The Banana?

* Just noticed that Evans's autobiography (The Kid Stays in the Picture) is out of print. Shame, as it's one of the most entertaining and revealing books I've read on how films get made. It's also, I think, one of the best books I've read on the the art of the deal, and not just in relation to the film business.


Brit said...

Nige is always plugging the Cheeta book. Will have to add it to The List.

The trick with fiction is not to read anything less than 20 years old, to allow the quality-filtering process to take some effect.

Nige said...

With you on contemp fiction as well as Me Cheeta, Gaw - though I should point out that it's an autobiography. Still, brilliant that it's on the Booker longlist. Wonder if Cheeta will make it to the dinner...

Gaw said...

Brit, you're right. I should start exploring some of Nige's obscure and ancient Portuguese writers.

BTW the basis for another R4-type quiz: Which European country has the fewest number of famous people you can name (a twist on the 'name ten famous Belgians' game). I always had Portugal near the top but no longer. (You may exclude Baltics and Balkans to make it more competitive - as you can probably tell, this one actually has occupied a few car journeys).

Nige: Sorry, my mistake. Should really have been in for the Costa, née Whitbread. In any event I would hope PG would be served at the ceremony.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I'm racking my brains to think of anything I've read involving monkeys. Ah, "Gibbons: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire".

worm said...

I'm after a look at the cheeta book, I'm sure I'd like it!

And as for the Evan's book - yes, a rollicking good read - but the hollywood exposes I've read since have told me lots more about Evans, and it would seem that he left an awful lot of things about himself out of the story!

If you read 'High Concept' the story of drug addict and whore hound producer Don Simpson, Evan's name crops up all over stories involving plenty of seriously dark stuff indeed

Gaw said...

Gadj: I thought you might have started something there.. but I think you bagged the only good 'un!

Worm, thanks for the reco. I find those Hollywood books compulsively interesting - the mix of glamour, power and seediness is irresistible.

Congrats again on your news and glad you had what sounded like a legendarily good holiday.

Kevin Musgrove said...

The twenty year rule is a generally good one. It filters out all that up-its-own-arse "literary" fiction which is utterly unreadable.

Dave Lull said...

Just who is Cheeta the chimp, anyway?

Gaw said...

Thanks for the link Dave. I enjoyed the line: 'In Hollywood even animals lie about their age.'