The Afterparty, by Leo Benedictus

Purchased at the Book Depository

Debut author Leo Benedictus (a columnist for The Guardian) has a very high opinion of the ground-breaking nature of The Afterparty. In the novel itself, he refers to it as post-post-modern (I am no academic so I’m not really sure what that means). In an online interview (titled “A new kind of novel? I honestly do think so, yes” — taken from an exchange in the interview), he compares himself to Paul Auster, Martin Amis and Italo Calvino. Whatever, he stakes a claim to the innovative nature of the book: it is not “metafiction”, it is “hyperfiction”. If you read that interview, he also thinks he is the first novelist to actually use real quotes from celebrities (Elton John is one) in his book — I find it hard to give credence to that claim.

On the other hand, for this reader, in some ways he was dead on, albeit with negative not positive implications (would that his writing talent was half as substantial as his ego). Less than a quarter of the way through the book, my interest in the novel itself had been overtaken by a rather morbid curiosity: Is The Afterparty an example of what contemporary fiction produced by the texting, twittering, mobile-chained generation is going to look like in the future? I know there is a healthy market in Japan for “novels” written by teenage girls on their cellphones, filed on-line and later turned into conventional pulp-and-paper books. Are we headed that way too? And where does that leave 63-year-old, Jane Austen-loving me?

So, in the spirit of The Afterparty, here’s an attempt at a post-post-modern, hyperfiction review (including the compulsory introduction of the writer — in this case, KfC — into the text). For me, this novel comes in three storylines:

Storyline One: The actual “novel” of the book comes in the form of draft chapters that the author, William Mendez, is submitting to a prospective agent under the title of Publicity, later to be amended to Publicity*****. The staging event for these draft chapters is the 31st birthday party for actor Hugo Marks (who has a new film about to be released in a couple weeks — a major motivating factor in the need for a party to attract the paparazzi) at a private Soho club, Cuzco. Much drink and cocaine will be consumed at the club and the ensuing afterparty.

The Soho party features a number of real-life celebrities (Elton John, Mark Wahlberg and Gordon Ramsay among others — I am not up to date on UK celeb gossip, so a number of them passed me by). A fair grouping of rock stars, including Calvin Vance, a grad of The X-Factor who is about to release an album, are also present. Like most parties of this nature, it is part party, part substance-consuming excuse, part meet-and-greet business. One of Benedictus’ distinguishing post-post-modern contributions is to include a sub-editor from The Standard, Michael, as an observer and participant — in his working life, Michael fine tunes the copy of the paper’s diary columnist and is there on the strength of her invitation, since she had a more important function to attend.

Benendictus writes these chapters from four different points of view and, helpfully for the reading-challenged, each is set in a different typeface in the novel: the actor, Hugo Marks; his wife, the drug-rehabbed but still-addicted supermodel, Mellody; Calvin, the 20-year-old budding rock star and Michael, the hapless sub-editor.

Without giving too much away, at the halfway point in the novel, they all end up at Hugo’s house for the afterparty of the title — either drunk or drugged, but still partying on. Calvin falls off the roof and dies (I gather this is a fictional version of a real event that this North American does not know about and I am not interested enough to google it). A police investigation — and celebrity cover-up — ensues.

Storyline Two: All of the above draft chapters are interpersed with e-mail exchanges between author Mendez and his prospective agent, Valerie Morrell. Benedictus has said that many of these are real copies from his own experience writing the novel and searching for an agent and publisher. Here is a sample, taken from agent Morrell’s response to Mendez between receiving chapters two and three:

Thanks for this. From what I have seen of it so far, I think the book is very promising. I enjoy your style, and the introduction of Calvin adds a valuable extra dimension. You say you are still polishing the rest so I was wondering if there might be any more I could have a look at, perhaps with a synopsis? Let me rephrase that: I’m desperate to know what happens next!

I wasn’t that desperate (as you have already discovered) but I’ll admit that Benedictus uses these emails to significant effect and some humor. Just at the point when I was thinking this novel was a possible Richard and Judy contender, if only Benedictus eliminated a few “fucks” from the narrative, he introduces a scene where a rock musician character tells the story of “fucking” a dog at some previous party. Agent Valerie responds:

Read the new chap this morning, by the way. Splendid stuff, especially the dog sex. I think that’s safely excised you from Richard and Judy’s list…

Storyline Three: In which the reviewer introduces himself into the review. As noted earlier, at about the one-quarter point, curiosity that my own reading tastes might now be consigned to some historical dustbin took over from any real interest in the novel itself. This feeling became even more distressing as the novel progressed and The Afterparty became ever more littered with sophomoric gimmicks.

Author Mendez (that turns out to be pseudonym, incidentally — bet you can’t guess who shows up as a stand-in author?) also includes a number of marketing ideas in his exchanges with his putative agent. He thinks it would be a great idea if online reviewers (at Amazon or on blogs like this one, I presume) were promised that quotes from two reviews would be included on the back cover of the paperback edition of the book to be published in 2012. Even better, the author would promise to introduce a cameo appearance for one lucky reader in that edition — just email your personal details to the publisher and “the most enticing character will be written into the Cuzco party scene under your name. No pets.” Also, if you post a twitter message with an identifying link to the novel’s website it will be included in an appendix to that 2012 edition.

And, guess what? Random House’s Jonathan Cape is promising to do all that — for real — with the next edition of The Afterparty (my UK version of this edition is already in paperback, so I’m assuming Benedictus missed out on a hardcover edition and they are talking about the mass-market version). So this whole project is not so much an exercise in fiction writing, but rather the institutionalization of social media in traditional book publishing. “Hyperfiction” turns out to be an exercise in mass sales promotion.

I did finish the book with a sense of personal dread, I must admit. The cute gimmicks are so appalling — and pervasive — that I had to see them through to the end. My bigger concern, though, was that I had had a similar reaction to another book just a few months ago, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad — and that novel has attracted rave reviews from a wide variety of sources and is a fixture on most U.S. prize lists this spring. And another novel recently reviewed here, Timothy Taylor’s The Blue Light Project, has some similar characteristics of multiple story lines, and internal excerpts from a book about them, although the social media element in that one is a graffiti collective.

There is a major difference, however — Egan and Taylor are both talented writers and, while some of their gimmicks annoyed me, I can understand why others found them persuasive. And neither had the gall to inserts themselves as a character in their book. Benedictus’ novel, on the other hand, is all gimmick with no underlying substance or style. Even the “satire” of the celebrity world is embarrassingly amateurish.

The most positive spin that I can put on this is that it simply represents the emergence of a new genre that doesn’t appeal to me, much like those Japanese cellphone romances. The nagging doubt is that all the prize attention these books are attracting (if The Afterparty makes the Booker longlist I am in serious trouble) means that this reader is being left in the distant wake of the course of contemporary fiction. Fortunately, I have a library of a couple thousand volumes to fall back on. And if you drop in here some time in the future and see that the name of the blog has been changed to CurmudgeonfromCanada, you will know that I have admitted defeat.

About these ads

149 Responses to “The Afterparty, by Leo Benedictus”

  1. dovegreyreader Says:

    Kevin, I can’t tell you how utterly relieved I am to read this! I am about halfway through The Afterparty and with favourable endorsements from so many others ringing in my ears I was beginning to feel a bit ragged around the edges because I was bored with the banality of the book, the themes, the gimmicky set up, the characters, the fatuous celebrity lives, the whole lot.
    Then I started to blame myself for living in Devon and thus being completely out of touch with London life and this generation, and then feeling even older and even more out of touch as a result and about to go out and eat worms.
    So now I realise I don’t have to make myself pick this book up again, it is alright to abandon it because Curmudgeon of Canada tells me things ain’t going to improve.
    And based on your Finkler Stinker of last year we’d better get our £10 on The Afterparty now to win the Booker, so thank you for the tip so early on in the year x

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    DGR: Damn, I should have found a way to work “banal” into the original review — it is completely applicable. All those things you cite at the end of the first para of your comment actually imply the potential for an interesting book, but this certainly is not it. Although I wasn’t bored so much as experiencing a creeping terror that contemporary fiction and I are at a serious parting of the ways.

    If you are half way through (and I was feeling about the same at that point), it does get worse on all those fronts.

    And you raise an entirely valid point about me inadvertently tipping the Booker winner last year with a somewhat similar rubbish review. Get your wager in early.

  3. dovegreyreader Says:

    The problem might also be that I’ve just finished Annabel this evening and that has been such a spectacularly good read and of course so very different, but as you say, Benedictus’s themes do have the potential to make a good book, just not this one for me and thee… hmm might up my bet to £20 now:-)

  4. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I’d just like to point out that on another forum I compared this novel to last year’s Beatrice and Virgil (which I do think is a better comparison than The Finkler Question). And Martel’s novel did not make any longlist anywhere. So you might want to scale back your wager.

  5. leroyhunter Says:

    It sounds terrible, Kevin. Thanks for the warning.

    If you’re going to sound as pleased with yourself as Master Benedictus seems to, you’d be well advised to have some pretty hot stuff backing it up – and “real” celeb quotes as dialogue mixed in with “actual publishers emails” just seem lame, obvious, derivative and, yes, banal.

  6. Kerry Says:

    This sounds horrid. I will heed the warning. I did like Egan’s latest, but that is more in spite of some of the more gimmicky aspects. I share your apprehension about a shift towards ever more gimmicks (if I can cram a little Calvino, a little Coetzee, a little Brett Easton Ellis, a little Pynchon, a little…..well, it ends up like putting all your favorite foods in a blender: a disgusting mush.) I’ll stick to my ice cream when I am eating ice cream and my pizza when I am eating pizza, thank you.

  7. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kerry: Egan’s book is much, much better (and innovative, for that matter) than this one, even if it did not land with me. Your blender image is quite appropriate.

  8. Trevor Says:

    Well, I didn’t need to read much beyond the first couple of sentences to know where this review was going. Of course, your tone was so much fun there, I had to keep reading — and, thanks to you, that about does it for me and The Afterparty!

  9. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Trevor: I would be less than honest if I did not ‘fess up to having considerable fun in writing the review. I’ll save the contemplation of whether I am becoming a grumpy old man when it comes to contemporary fiction for later. I do feel you can give this one a miss, although (as has already been pointed out) I did say the same thing about The Finkler Question last year.

  10. Lisa Hill Says:

    Oh C from C, I am laughing out loud!

  11. kimbofo Says:

    OH NO!!!!! I loved this book. The trick is not to take it too seriously. It is supposed to be a pisstake on so many levels: on publicity, on celebrity, on publishing.

    I was going to suggest that perhaps the humour doesn’t translate across the Atlantic, but then I see DGR doesn’t like it either. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. *kimbofo now ducks for cover*

  12. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kim: Ah, you’ve fallen into the trap of “you have to love this book because it is so bad”.

    No, I don’t. It is a bad book. Buying it is a waste of money.

    Keep under cover. :-)

  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lisa: Thanks for laughing — I’m preparing for my curmudgeon role by ridding myself of the last vestiges of humor.

  14. dovegreyreader Says:

    Kim, I’m in hysterics here, it’s a good thing I know you .. I was waiting for you to arrive:-)
    I was thinking about this being a generational thing last night when this debate started, and decided that, having taken the responsibility upon myself for feeling out of touch with partyland when I read this book… therefore my fault that the book and the lives held no interest, I now think perhaps the author does have some responsibility to present it in a way that us old curmudgeons can enjoy it too, if a book is to succeed. Of course now I’m desperately trying to think of a comparison, a book with similar subject matter that has worked across the generations, and I can’t but I expect someone will.

  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    While I have never met Kim except online, I do know a little bit about her London world and would offer the opinion that that would offer an explanation for her positive response to the book. The two venues in which the novel is set are within easy walking distance of both her former office and where she lives — I am sure at some point she has walked past versions of both the party and the afterparty.

    Had Benedictus positioned his pastiche of a book as a sardonic look at empty London lives, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and said “good on you”. And probably regarded using the narrative itself to market the book as being simply crude bad taste rather than finding it offensive. It is when he proclaims this as the new look of fiction and casts himself as a great innovator that I get upset (as I tried to say in the review, it is even more chilling that he might be right).

    As for someone who took similar circumstances and made them work across generations and oceans in a real novel, I’d offer Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, although there is no doubt that Audrey helped out with the reputation of that one.

  16. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Hasn’t Tao Lin already rather covered this ground?

    The gimmick of including readers within the text is an old one. That online zombie novel I discussed ages ago did it for example. The author had a competition and the winner pops up in the novel as a minor character who’s survived the apocalypse. It’s far from a new idea.

    Meta. Eh. I’ve nothing against it but it needs skill to pull off. Amis does it in Money and it just about works (just about, and Amis is at the top of his game there). Again, it’s not new, it’s just not common because it’s very easy to do badly.

    Also, from that interview you linked to:

    “To the best of my knowledge, The Afterparty is the first novel ever to include some characters who are real people speaking lines of dialogue that they have really spoken (in newspaper interviews, on TV etc). ”

    I take it he’s not heard of Gordon Burn then?

  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: Agreed. Patch together a bunch of gimmicks that have been done before (and better) by real authors and proclaim yourself a great innovator. Not.

  18. kimbofo Says:

    Um, well, I didn’t read that interview with LB, and I admit that having read it now it’s a bit, well, self-congratulatory in places. But … but… that shouldn’t take away from the fact that The Afterparty is an enjoyable & playful read. I laughed out loud a lot, I recognised many of the thinly veiled people in it and I appreciated LB’s deft swipe at the meaningless drivel that fills our TV screens in the form of X-Factor etc.

    Perhaps the obsession with celebrity isn’t as rife in Canada, but in the UK it is bordering on insane. And if you don’t take any notice of it, if you don’t watch the TV shows (Britain’s Got Talent, Dancing on Friggin’ Ice) or the soaps (Coronation Street, Eastenders etc), or read the toilet-paper masquerading as magazines (Now!, Heat, etc) or the tabloids, then you are completely out of the loop. I don’t follow any of that stuff, which means when I talk to 20-somethings I don’t have a bloody clue what is going on!! And so when I read The Afterparty, I thought here is an author who rejects all this fame for fame’s sake rubbish too and he really gets this obsession with talentless, vacuous people, and as I read it, I couldn’t help think that Howard Marks was Hugh Grant and Mellody was an Americanized version of Liz Hurley, and the whole falling off the roof incident was the Pete Doherty and Mark Bianco criminal case that’s filled our newspapers for YEARS.

    Anyway, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get my coat…. ;-)

  19. david benedictus Says:

    You won’t be expecting dispassionate comments from me, because as you might suppose from my name I am a close relative of Leo Benedictus – his father in fact.

    Fom the bilious nature of your comments, I am assuming that you are all characters in Leo’s next novel, a comic one this time it seems.

  20. Max Cairnduff Says:

    There’s certainly room for satirising the UK’s celebrity obsessed culture. That said, I have unread Gordon Burn…

    It does strike me there’s potentially something iffy in looking down on mass culture while relying on a knowledge of it for the book to resonate. It’s like people who watch soaps “ironically”. If you like soaps or talent shows just watch them, there’s no need to pretend though that you’re watching them in some more knowing way than an ordinary punter. I don’t apologise for my trashier tastes. I don’t read pulp ironically. Why not just like what you like and if sometimes it’s lowbrow so be it?

    Benedictus’s approach smacks of having your cultural cake and sneering at it too.

  21. KevinfromCanada Says:

    David: Well, if he needs a North American curmudgeon in the next novel, I guess I have put myself forward, willingly or not. :-)

  22. kimbofo Says:

    Have you read the book, Max? LB doesn’t sneer, he pokes a gentle stick at it all — and it’s hilarious without being snobby. I thought it was a playful take. I make no apologies for loving this book and giving it a five-star review.

  23. Max Cairnduff Says:

    That david would be delightful.

    It’s robust debate. We’re talking about the novel. What would be truly cruel would be to ignore it. It’s not always true that bad publicity is better than no publicity but in the case of new authors the real challenge is more often getting people to notice you at all rather than getting people to read your book.

    Kim, out of interest, if I didn’t get the references how much would I be missing out? I don’t know anything about the Mark Bianco case (which is funny given I have two Libertines album and a Babyshambles one).

  24. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I haven’t Kim, so I’m in the very dubious area of critiquing something I’ve not read. I have to admit, your arguments have piqued my interest rather.

    To be honest, I didn’t like the interview much, but I’ve hated every interview I’ve read with Tom McCarthy and yet I loved Remainder. My rule with some writers is only to read their books and never their interviews. It holds well with McCarthy. Maybe with this guy too.

    Have you written it up? I’d love to read a countering view.

    • kimbofo Says:

      I have a policy of not reading author interviews until AFTER I’ve written my review simply because they end up clouding my opinion. In most cases, I don’t bother reading their interviews at all, unless, of course, I’m especially interested in following their careers.

  25. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Sorry Kim, just found your writeup here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2011/03/the-afterparty-by-leo-benedictus.html

  26. kimbofo Says:

    Max, I don’t think you would miss anything, to be honest. It took me awhile to clock on… there was something niggling my brain as I read it, because there was something faintly familar about the storyline. I think I was almost finished before I did some ‘googling’ and then went Bingo! I’m not a Pete Doherty fan, but living very close to West London magistrates court he’s been hard to ignore. Plus, I spent years reading those terrible free evening commuter rags, both of which may as well have rebranded themselves as the Pete Doherty Times, seeing as they followed every move of his drug-addled life.

    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      It is only fair to LB to note that in the exchanges with his agent there is an ongoing discussion about Doherty and whether the resemblence is too obvious in the novel he is writing — and whether that means that defamation writs will be issued. I didn’t know (or google, as I indicated) the circumstances but had little trouble following it. He’s certainly not trying to hide the borrowing — rather it is another of those “ironies” that form the backbone of the book, a rather weak one in my opinion (obviously).

      • kimbofo Says:

        Oh yes, had forgotten that. But I think this is before the falling-off-the-roof incident. (I no longer have my copy, so can’t check.) It wasn’t until that happened that I recalled a similar incident in Doherty’s life.

        • KevinfromCanada Says:

          It’s both before and after since Calvin actually isn’t the Doherty character in this book, but the incident adds another Doherty dimension — all of which I could understand (or at least thought I did) from the email exchanges.

  27. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: On the irony front (and cleverly linking to another KfC post), Adam Mars-Jones does address the issue you raised a few comments past about “attitude” and television-watching in both Cedilla and Pilcrow. The Cromer family are “right and proper” people who are above watching programmes on ITV (this is in the 1960s, remember). They do however tune in regularly so they can “mock” those that do and, of course, become thoroughly enrolled in the broadcasts. It is done with a subtlety that had me chuckling along throughout. For me, Benedictus applied a rather cumbersome sledgehammer to the same purpose — but I think Kim’s explanation does deserve some respect.

  28. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Babyshambles has its moments but isn’t amazing. The Libertines though were a tremendous band and I hope they reform.

    That may be off-topic for this blog though.

    I note it’s 384 pages. That’s denser somehow than I expected. I see there’s a kindle edition. Would that work do you think given you’d lose the back cover and so on?

    Kevin, the Indy compared it to Skippy Dies. Does that comparison make any sense to you?

  29. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: It doesn’t compare to Skippy Dies at all beyond the fact that a character death features in both. Incidentally, I would compare Mars-Jones’ novels to Skippy Dies in that both use a young, damaged central character as a platform for a critical look at the institutions around them — John’s experiences in hospitals, schools and even university all had me thinking about Murray’s book.

    My comparison’s would be Capote’s New York novels — Breakfast at Tiffany’s as already mentioned but even more the unfinished Answered Prayers. Capote does it far more effectively — while LB just climbs on the wave and exploits real-life celebrity scandals, Capote perceptively explores what he thinks is behind them.

    It hurts to write that, of course. Now, in addition to Auster, Amis and Calvino, I’ve added Capote to the list. The Afterparty really doesn’t deserve it.

  30. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Having made grumpy comments about Leo Benedictus’ ego, it is only fair to acknowledge that he has both tweeted and Facebooked links to this review — and the excerpted quotes from the review on the Facebook page are an entirely fair representation. So, I’d now have to say his ego is not only substantial, but inclusive of dissenting opinions.

    More disturbing (for me, not him) is that those links are producing a substantial number of hits to the KfC blog — next to Booker and Giller prize days, today is going to be a new high. Which means, of course, that my worries that this does represent a potential new course for fiction are only getting worse. Sigh.

  31. Guy Savage Says:

    Dear Curmudgeon:
    I read this review last night and had to go away and think about it. Today there are a lot more comments so I will read those later.

    About Publicity ***** Are the stars there to replace a swear word? Personally I am all for a few fucks scattered in the text as I swear a lot.

    But apart from that, no I don’t think this is for me–although I see Kimbofo enjoyed it.

    I am not opposed to books with e-mails and texts etc, but this one sounds like something I’d dislike.

  32. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    If Leo is looking for a MrsCurmudgeonfromCanada character I am pleased to offer myself up. We can debate who will play me in the movie at a later date.

  33. Guy Savage Says:

    I was going to try this via a sample on my kindle, but it’s not available in America.

  34. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: There is no space in Publicity***** — my impression was that the asterisks were just added to create more buzz, or what the interior author thought would be buzz.

    The Canadian printed version is out in two weeks, although it looks to me that it is simply printed copies shipped from Random House UK so I suspect a U.S. version is somewhere off in the future.

    I’m not an e-reader but my impression is that this is idly suited for it — the writing comes in fairly short bits and the different typefaces which annoyed me would be much less of a problem. Also, the author’s newspaper columnist background tends to show up in the prose — he writes in 1,000-word sections, which is column length. In fact, I think I noticed on LB’s tweets that the e-version is out-selling the physical book in the UK.

  35. Guy Savage Says:

    It’s a damn nuisance as most of the new books I am interested in are published in other countries, and I can chose to wait (and see if they get a US publication) or just get them shipped.

  36. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: We in Canada are lucky with a lot of UK titles. The market is small enough that they usually just ship some copies over here, so we get them within a month of UK release. Whereas you in the U.S., being a much bigger market, have to wait for a publisher there. I haven’t looked to see if The Afterparty has a U.S. publisher yet (I’m sure if you sent Benedictus a query he would respond — google his website).

    And I wonder how much U.S. market there is for it, even for those who might like it (which doesn’t include me). We visit London often enough, that the conceit made sense (celebrity life is pretty hard to avoid there as Kim, who knows far more of it than I do, has pointed out) even if I did not like the delivery. The American celebrity world is so different, that I’m not sure it will travel very well. And it is going to inevitably get compared (unfavorably) to A Visit From The Goon Squad when it does get there.

  37. Guy Savage Says:

    I think many publishers are cutting back on titles that they think may not ‘do’ well in the American market. I checked on Amazon and didn’t see a publication date for The Afterparty. No date yet, either, on Adrian McGinty’s latest or Tim Thorton’s Death of an Unsigned Band.

  38. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Hi all

    I’ve been trying to resist, but the sight of a potential reader hoping to download a chapter and not being able… well, it was too much.

    Guy, you, or anyone else, can do so here. http://www.vintage-books.co.uk/theafterparty/

    And since I’m here… Look, I’m not at all cross. I wanted to write a book that would be different from anything I had read before (though perhaps similar to some things I hadn’t read), and I wanted it to entertain people, not just while they were reading it, but before and after. Mixed results, I think it is fair to say, are all that I expected.

    On the matter of me being a conceited arse, well, I probably am a bit. I certainly believe that I have written a wonderful and unusual novel – and I would hope to find the same belief in any novelist who expects to be read.

    But there is something else to it as well. As you know from that interview, I think the idea of authors as characters is important, and underexplored, even by the metafiction authors whom I mentioned, and revere. I won’t bang on, but I will mention that in The Afterparty, Leo Benedictus is advised by William Mendez to act a little controversially when the novel comes out to help generate publicity for it.

    Good advice, I’d say. If, as a result, someone comes to the book with the idea of me as a gobby little preener who needs taking down… well, then someone has come to the book. And their experience, when they encounter “Leo Benedictus” in it, will be enriched. I find it interesting – and not at all shallow or contemptible – that the discussion here should focus so much on me as a person. What has been happening, it seems, is very literally the construction of a fictional character. And goodness: here I am, walking and talking! Well talking, anyway. I’ll stop now.

    Sorry about my dad, by the way. I can’t control him. Which is embarrassing. It is supposed to be the other way around.

    Leo

  39. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Leo: Many thanks for both the link and the comment.

    I spent 26 years in the daily newspaper business — the last half as the editor and then publisher of the Calgary Herald — so we have something in common. One of the more frequent debates in those latter years was telling reporters and columnists that when they had taken their best run at someone and that person chose to respond with an explanation, the journalist was not allowed to try to hit a killer on the return-of-serve.

    So, I will follow my own advice. Many thanks for the clarification and expansion in your well considered response.

    And I thought your father’s comment was quite charming. It would have been quite inappropriate (shocking, even) if he had said “the gobby little preener needs taking down”.

    Just as a matter of interest, do you have an American publisher yet?

  40. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Leo:
    You are not a gobshite at all – you are to be commended for the very dispassionate way you are responding to all these comments. You are right – you need a healthy ego to write a book and expect people to read it. You win some, you lose some…….

    • Guy Savage Says:

      Sheila: Just a note that I watched a 3-parter detective series the other day and found it … just ok–Murderland, FYI in case you felt compelled to buy it.

  41. Guy Savage Says:

    An author I read (who shall remain nameless) says that one thing he’d do differently (if he had to do it all over again) would be to take over some of the publicity aspects of his first few books. Paraphrasing here, but bottom line he’d be more aggressive about it. His first books were given very little in the way of budget and sank. Rather unfairly too, may I add. So I think it’s up to authors themselves (unless they have the status of Dan Brown types) to do what they can to promote their own books these days. And more power to ‘em, I say. Why bother being coy? The ballsier the better.

    I’m not keen on the idea of ‘dog sex’ (in the book under discussion I hasten to clarify) but I will take a look at the excerpt. Thanks.

  42. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Guy;
    Even Dan Brown was a new author once. Generally in life, “the ballsier the better” is a good idea.

  43. dovegreyreader Says:

    Oh bless Leo, what a lovely guy and don’t you just love a dad who defends his lad… all hail to Family Benedictus and Leo, don’t you dare tell him off, that was a lovely thing to write, I’d do the same for my kids.
    I hadn’t read any reviews for this but having visited Leo’s website I now see that EVERYONE is tipping it for Booker fame, KFC reigns supreme, might you be on a hat-trick?? And great to see you are not backwards in coming forwards with that strap line at the top of the blog, love it.

  44. KevinfromCanada Says:

    DGR: I guess that means you’ve upped your bet back to 20 pounds. I’ll just crawl into my corner, light my pipe, find a Trollope and grumble to myself.

  45. John Self Says:

    I have been much amused by this review and the comments. I haven’t read The Afterparty and as I’m not buying books at the minute I’m unlikely to (and if the author is reading this, yes, that means the publicity team at Cape did not come up trumps). Nonetheless in a funny way I feel as though I’ve had as enriching a metafictional – or should I say post-post-reading – experience as I might have had if I’d bothered to read the book. A book you don’t need to read to get the best from – now that really would be new.

    I am interested however in the author’s comments above where he seems to suggest a variation on there being no such thing as bad publicity, ie if someone comes to the book thinking him a gobby little preener, then at least they have come to the book. We can hardly deny the commercial imperative for any new writer these days, but is that really his bottom line? E.M. Forster once said that he wrote in order to earn the respect of people he respected. I’m sure he liked the sales too, but they weren’t why he wrote in the first place. Does Mr Benedictus have no higher aim than making a splash, and at that a splash whose ripples are likely to die away quickly, leaving no trace?

  46. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John: I’m pleased that you found the reading experience here rewarding. The comments certainly are in the spirit that the review intended and, as much as I didn’t like the book, I have certainly enjoyed the business of reading and responding to them.

    Your second paragraph aptly captures my dilemma. There are certainly books that sell (as I recall you are planning to write your first novel under the pseudonym of Stephenie Meyer) but I don’t think that is necessarily a reflection of their literary value — or inventiveness, for that matter. If anything, I’d suggest it reflects the opposite. While I appreciate the challenge that first novelists face, I still think the cart should follow the horse, not drag it along behind.

    I’ve also decided that “hyperfiction” is an appropriate description, if one interprets “hyper-” in the fashion of “hypertext” or “hyperlinks” — i.e. something that takes you away from the document under consideration. That’s the effect the book had on me.

  47. Guy Savage Says:

    John: I took it to mean that it doesn’t bother him if you think of him unpleasantly as long as you read the book, and that if you come to the book because of these negative things, what does it matter?

    I can’t speak for his aims. But then again, I don’t know if mine are written in cement either.

  48. Max Cairnduff Says:

    John,

    If he believes in his book (and if he didn’t why write it?) then getting a reader to it means giving them a chance to see what he’s achieved. In other words, come for the controversy, stay for the quality, hopefully.

    I did wonder if the interview was part of it, shame I didn’t think to say so.

    Leo, thanks for the chapter link. now I’m part of the metafictional narrative I feel I should take a look, if only to check I’m not already in it…

  49. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I had a look at that first chapter.

    To be honest I found it pretty funny – particularly the metajoke about how to start a novel. Of course the thing with comic fiction is that when it works it’s great, but if you don’t find it funny it’s just painful to wade through.

  50. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: In my newspaper days, we always tried to make sure that the content that we produced was kept separate both from the marketing of the product and (even more important in North America) the influence of the advertisers who were paying most of the bills. Lawyers certainly have their own versions of this, since ethical behavior is very much a part of the credibility.

    So I have a problem with an author shamelessly promoting a supposedly serious novel and passing that off as “content” in the novel. Certainly it is done, just as down-market tabloids have far different standards from the ones that I was used to. For this reader, that behavior seriously decreases the credibility of the novel, even if it is by definition fiction and even if it is well done (and I’d again underline that with this novel I didn’t think much was very well done — the author’s marketing is certainly better than the book from my point of view).

    As I tried to indicate in the review, I do have a concern that both my standards on that front and what I regard to be good fiction may be left in the lurch with the current trend in contemporary writing. I can live with that (because I own lots of books that I love, too many of which I have not yet read) but a part of me will certainly miss reading contemporary work if that does happen. (And I am certain there are lots of small artisanal publishers who will be producing good novels even if all the major ones do opt for market-chasing.)

    I am relatively immune to authors promoting their work outside the book itself although with high profile novels (and I think this one fits that definition) it is hard to avoid it. (I should note that I did not read the interview I linked to until after reading the book — it only confirmed and added depth to my concerns. Perhaps I shouldn’t have provided the link, but I did figure my first sentence in the review was indication enough of where I was headed.) But when that activity becomes a substantial part of the book itself, I feel both insulted and ripped off.

    Finally, I rather liked the first chapter as well. As I said originally, it was about at the one-quarter mark that my personal morbid curiosity at what I was reading took over from the book itself. And even then, I must admit that some of the email exchanges in the next third did have me chuckling.

  51. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Thanks Kevin, Sheila, Guy, Max, John, Dove, everyone

    The truth is, John, in answer to your point first, that I certainly do have a higher aim. Like all literary novelists, I want to describe the world, invent new forms, entertain people, write the finest sentences available to humanity… And if I pull this off, repeatedly, for years, I’m sure I’ll get the readers and the money I deserve.

    But literary culture is in a desperate state right now. Indeed it has been for some time. Demand for books by lesser-known novelists is at an historic low, and yet the supply of them has never been higher. It is only the prizes, frankly, that hold any kind of career path together. And I blame the novelists, actually, for this situation. There are too many of us published (publishers to blame there too) and we have been writing books that are too boring to excite enough readers. Among my accusations here are that, in a culture that expects modesty from the unread authors it indulges, we have become ashamed of showing off. (Which is a pity, because I love to read good writers doing that.) We have not innovated enough either – or if we have, we have become so pleased with ourselves for doing so, that we let ourselves imagine that this excuses us from the absolute obligation, as I see it, to entertain.

    Nor, frankly, do we read enough bad reviews, Kevin, which is why I applaud yours. Like most novelists, especially debutants, I have found that people who love the book tend to tell me so, while people who don’t, I presume, are keeping schtum. I do deeply love hearing good reports of my book, but debut novelists are done no favours by this protective treatment. Neurotically high standards and intense self-criticism, I think, are essential traits for any writer who is going to develop into something seriously good (which they have to if they are going to sell). But nothing erodes those traits faster than unbroken praise. The supportiveness of friends and, perhaps, reviewers, also fails to prepare people for the chasm of indifference that most literary novels are thrown into. Publication is too often regarded as the end of a long hard struggle, instead of its beginning.

    New literary authors need to get attention for themselves, by writing something that merits it. We cannot be so complacent as to rely on prize juries to propogate our higher purpose for us. But nor is this any kind of artistic compromise. As I argue in a blog that, coincidentally, has just gone up here http://bit.ly/fbGVPQ, the act of getting attention for oneself has always been intrinsic to the act of writing. As it is with trainers or iPads, so it is with books: marketing is not something that makes people want the product, it is part of the product itself, because it radically affects how people experience the thing. There is no cart or horse to come first or second, just a car, driving.

    The Afterparty is an attempt to achieve this by including every aspect of the book’s own marketing within the ficiton itself. It isn’t new to do this – every book out there is doing the same, unknowingly – but it is new, I think, to be self-aware about it. You may have noticed, for instance, that even my characters’ coining of the term “hyperfiction” is done quite openly as a marketing ploy. Journalists, as I’m sure we all know well, like something short to put in their headlines. Needless to say, all this is irrelevant, however, if, with your interest piqued, you just don’t like the story, the way I write, the jokes, or any of the other traditional aspects of a novelist’s craft. Sorry, as you may gather, I am rather passionate about this subject. Which is why I wrote a book about it.

    L

    PS John, it is scandalous that you never got your copy. I will remedy this immediately by using the same methods that didn’t work last time.

  52. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Kevin/Leo,

    I don’t personally have an issue with author promotion. It can backfire of course, Tom McCarthy has almost certainly lost potential readers with some of his interviews, but even that’s better than nobody knowing you exist. I can’t avoid the fact that had Leo not pursued this strategy I’d not have heard of his book and since I’m now considering reading it that makes the strategy successful.

    For me there’s no risk of the traditional form of the novel vanishing or being replaced. It’s in rude health (even though literary culture is in a bit of a desperate state, both can be true but that goes beyond the scope of this comment). Experimental fiction for me is vital though in recharging the novel. The default remains the omniscient and infallible narrative voice just as it has since the 18th Century (arguably before since the Icelandic sagas a 1,000 years back follow a similar structure and earlier examples exist).

    I think that’s the default for good reason and I think it will still be the default 100 years from now. Jane Austen will remain not only relevant but a classic example of how most fiction is written. Sterne will remain an outlier, as he always has.

    Against that though is the need to keep things fresh. I read Berg’s Quin recently, and Burn’s Alma Cogan. Neither is quite a traditional novel. Both push what the novel does into slightly new places. The result isn’t a sea-change in the novel that leaves readers liking traditional forms in the cold, but it does help keep it all from going staid. The experimental invigorates the traditional.

    Is Leo’s book part of that process of renewal? I don’t know, though as I mentioned above I probably will read it now. As I blog every novel I read I’ll blog my thoughts, for good or bad, once I’ve done so and will link back here. Hopefully I won’t find as Kevin did that my enjoyment wanes markedly at the one-quarter mark but if it does it does and obviously I’ll say so.

    Looking afresh at the interview I note Leo’s well aware of how Amis inserts himself into Money and that he makes the obvious shout-out to Calvino. That’s a good sign. It is dispiriting when people claim to be revolutionary but don’t know what’s gone before.

    Leo, if you haven’t read Gordon Burn you really should. I think you’d like him.

  53. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Thanks Max – no, I haven’t read any Gordon Burn, though I remember seeing his obituary and wanting to. But then, right now, with a day job, a book to promote, another to write, and a toddler and a baby to look after, I spend quite a lot of time merely wanting to read things. Like you, I love both the Sternes and the Austens of the canon. I also happen to think that we are on the brink of a wonderful, if rather violent, period of creative renewal, courtesy of ebooks. But that’s another hand-grenade, whose pin I’ll leave in.

  54. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Yes. I have a ton of modernist and early 20th Century Central European fiction to get to, plus more Proust, so recommendations get noted but put on a back burner as a rule. Burn’s a big influence on Peace, though not as much as Ellroy in my view (and I think Peace still has a fair bit to learn from Burn, though Peace would probably agree with me on that). He also did some very interesting stuff on merging reality and fiction and the examination of celebrity.

    The ebook thing is interesting (pull the pin!). A while back on mine I wrote about a zombie novel published online that I’d read. The novel itself wasn’t much cop and I gave it a bit of a kicking (mostly on its own terms, I don’t like the genre but I thought it had problems even on the level it was aiming at and focused on those). What was interesting though was how it was published – chapter by chapter via blog with comments from readers so involving them in the process. There was a competition which led to one reader/commenter getting incorporated in the book as a character, and there was a print version sold to those who wanted one and marketed in part as a means of supporting the author if you liked his work. It was clever stuff and the author’s fairly successful as best I can tell.

    I didn’t like his book, but his approach to marketing it was novel and appeared to be successful. That said, I think he was traditionally published first and had already seen success that way. Still, if it hadn’t been free online there’s no way in hell I’d have read it so he reached at least one additional reader.

    I can see print copies becoming a marketing tool for gaining visibility for ecopies, much as hardbacks once provided marketing (and key revenue I grant) for mass market paperback editions. The problem in future will be the avalanche of self-published crap (with a handful no doubt of self-published gems, but how will we find them?). I log on to Amazon looking for something to read, browse the titles and there are tens of thousands of books many (most) of which are written by authors who previously wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a bookshop. That’s a challenge.

    Another challenge will be epiracy. On the one hand people read your book, on the other they don’t pay for it. Publishers haven’t even begun to address that one yet.

    What I think will be a flash in the pan is hypertexted books and books that use the electronic medium in an innovative way. Wired tried to do that with print journalism in the 90s and the result generally was a magazine that was physically harder to read than it needed to be but which didn’t have much better content. There’ll be elecronic Burroughs doing new equivalents to cut-up writing, but I don’t think they’ll change anything. Regardless of the achievements of writers such as Milorad Pavić , ergodic literature will never really catch on.

    Feel free to quote that back to me in 2020 when we all have novels beamed directly into our cerebellums…

  55. david benedictus Says:

    James, James, Morrison, Morrison, Wetherby George du Pree
    Took great care of his mother, although he was only three,
    James, James said to his mother: ‘Mother,’ he said, said he,
    ‘You must never go down to the end of the town without consulting me.’

    And who was it who enigmatically remarked: ‘The child is father to the man?’

    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      David: The A.A. Milne is an interesting choice of poem — it was recently featured in a review on this blog (of Stephen Hayward’s Don’t Be Afraid) in which it inspired the name of the central character. Everyone of course thought it was the rock star. I guess it would be unfair to accuse you and your forebears of acquiring a distinctive last name that would be adopted by a Pope just in time to promote your son’s first novel. :-)

      If Leo has written you into the book as a character, I couldn’t spot it (unless you are the senior policeman on the initial visit). Thanks for dropping by again.

  56. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Leo:
    KFC is my personal book selector ( I am his wife, aka MrsKFC), and I always take his recommendatins, as he is a far more committed reader than I. I was not intending to read your book because of his reaction to it. However, having read your of ambition for this book, and admiring your risk taking and your dedication to innovation, I will read it , and will add my comments to this blog. Bravo to you (and your father) for participating in this e-conversation.

  57. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Thank you Sheila – if the compromise exists wherein you love my book, and yet your marriage survives, then that is what I hope for.
    L

  58. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Leo, Max: Very thoughtful comments, which I will be processing for some time in my mental contemplation of whether or not I am a curmudgeon.

    According to the New Yorker article where I learned about them, the printed versions of those Japanese cellphone novels are selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Given that the whole format is meant as a kind of fictional e-diary (and the followers there are apparently in the millions), I’d have to conclude the beta test of the model has been successfully executed. Stephenie Meyer is already a publishing dinosaur.

    I agree with the statement in both your comments that it is easier now more than ever before for an author to get published. Just look at this exchange — the TLS has never had one nearly as good in its history. Well, maybe some as good, but none as timely. The irony is that the process of getting prospective reader attention to worthy works (acknowledging that every author thinks his or her work worthy) has become even more difficult.

    As a reader, I’ve always trusted the slush pile readers and editors at publishing houses to serve as my reliable filter on the quality front (given my newspaper experience in that role, it isn’t surprising that I value editors more than most readers do). The tragedy, from my point of view, is that in their attempt to divert more resources to marketing, this is exactly where publishing houses have chosen to cut costs. To be sure, the A-list editors still exist (although a few more retire each year) but they all have full stables of A-list authors and there are no “developing” editors waiting in the wings. The writers who don’t get the benefit of competent editing are those with debut novels — even second and third efforts seem to get little attention. I was shocked by a recent story in the Globe and Mail that Canadian publishing houses now expect would-be authors to themselves hire a freelance editor to work on the manuscript. (Aside: Which provoked a comment from Russell Smith, a Globe columnist who is kind of Canada’s version of Leo: And how to you become a freelance novel editor? Get laid off from your job at a magazine and buy an internet address.)

    So my concern with this book (which does illustrate the creative input of the agent, incidentally) was that this whole marketing tilt has now bulged like a cancer and over taken the creative side of the publishing business. And of course the houses are downloading much of marketing onto authors — not just book tours, interviews and festivals, but they are expected to recruit friends to supply five-star Amazon reviews, tweet, Facebook and who knows what else (umm, even use the novel itself as the marketing start?). Yes, Jane Austen had a tough time getting published, but at least once that was done she could move on to the next book.

    Whatever I think of his novel, I have to acknowledge that Leo has developed this aspect of the contemporary author’s role to a level that I haven’t seen before, although that bothers rather than thrills me. But, when I look at the reviews quoted on his website, the marketing has sparked a wealth of gushing reviews (okay, maybe the book is far better than I found it and quality, not marketing, produced them — but I’d want to debate that point). With Max, Guy and my wife all now investigating the book, I’ve indirectly added at least three readers with my grumpy review since I am sure a mildly positive one would have provoked no debate (and hence no sales).

    Finally, the seeds of my doubt actually were generated a couple months back when some blog (sorry, I forgot which — I think Kimbofo, but not sure) suggested looking back at the NY Times bestseller list on your birthday 25 or 30 years ago (less, of course, for younger readers). I did and could say that I had read, enjoyed and remembered seven of the 10 — they were works of quality. It is a rare week now that I’d consider more than one or two of literary quality. We are already well down the slippery slope as far as I am concerned.

  59. Guy Savage Says:

    I’m adding a few comments here. I read a couple of novels by Aussie author Max Barry when they were languishing in the dark out of print. These novels were some of the funniest I’d read. Bought dozens of copies (literally) for anyone I could think of.

    He has a blog and a very active fan base. He wrote Jennifer Government which was optioned by George Clooney, and there was a resurgence of interest in his oop books. He developed a site called NationStates (a Nation simulation game. Create a nation according to your political ideals and care for its people. Or deliberately oppress them. It’s up to you.)

    He started writing a serial novel called Machine Man and you could get the first few episodes free. Then you could subscribe for a small fee to get susequent chapters–all through e-mail. Readers had input on the project. $6.95 got the whole enchilada.

    I think if you’re an author today, the intelligent move is to have a blog and interact with your readers. Max sends out subscription updates which are always funny. His name is in front of me regularly and I know what he is up to.

    As for e-books. We’re only just beginning to scrape the surface.

  60. Guy Savage Says:

    Kevin: I can’t say that I’ll read this book. As you know I read very few new books. My shelves are stacked and bending with books I’ve bought and haven’t read yet. As I have said before, I can usually guess whether or not I’ll like a classic, but it’s hit-and-miss with new books.

    At the moment, I’ve just started The Pornographer.

  61. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: Sorry, your comments got diverted into the spam queue and I just found them.

    I’d certainly agree that e-publication and e-books in general are a market that is evolving on almost a daily basis. Traditionalist that I am, I still prefer physical books — the curmudgeon in me keeps rising to the top.

    • Guy Savage Says:

      In my life, e-books have a place. I’m watching a 10 hr Russian television series called Queen Margot, and it’s got me interested in her memoirs. Guess what–FREE on my kindle. Can’t beat that.

  62. Sweet Fanny Adams Says:

    I really like The Afterparty – I’ve almost finished it. I was a little unsure for the first couple of pages (I was worried it was going to be a bit of a soap/Hello type of thing). I didn’t analyse it or compare it (I have read most of Jay McInerney’s books), I just read it and found myself hungry for more – hence the baggy eyes from reading it till 0200 this morning!
    As for you, KevinofCanada, you got off lightly with Mr Benedictus Snr – my Dad would have gone round there and bopped you one if you’d have criticised his beloved offspring. I’ve noted all the names of authors on these pages for future reading. Thanks.

  63. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Sweet Fanny Adams: We may disagree on the book, but you are quite right about Leo’s father — I feel like I have been brushed with a feather duster rather than hit over the head with a fire-side poker, which is probably the fate that I deserved. Cheers.

  64. leroyhunter Says:

    What an interesting thread, and great credit to Leo Benedictus for responding / engaging in such a measured fashion – especially with yet another example of how *not* to do this sort thing (ie respond to negative reviews) doing the rounds today.

    It makes me feel my own comment was quite mean-spirited…

    I’ll just add that I still don’t think the claims Leo is making on his book’s behalf are justified – Max has amplified some reasons why that’s the case. “Playing up” to publicise your book is a risky business, especially if the work itself can’t take that additional burden. I’m quite prepared to believe Kevin when he suggests that’s what has happened here.

    On the other hand….72 comments and counting…twitter etc abuzz no doubt…Always Be Closing…

  65. Sweet Fanny Adams Says:

    You made me laugh! I agree with you on ‘proper’ books and like you, I have tons that I have not read yet. I keep buying them in readiness for retirement but in order to read them all I think I would have to live to be 300 years old at this rate. One question please, is this site free of charge? The word ‘account’ always worries me.

  66. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Leroy: Mrs. KfC, who is positively disposed toward Leo because of his comments, is beginning the novel as we speak. And I suspect Max will manage to fit it into his commuting schedule sometime in the relatively near future (I’d say Benedictus is a much more attractive train read than Pynchon, but that may be excess on my part). So we will await their judgment — I’d guess both will say it is not nearly as bad as I found it, not nearly as good as the author thinks. Then you can take four or five hours of reading time (it is not a difficult read by any means, unless you get irate over the content) and supply the deciding verdict. Well, if Guy decides to read it the two of you may have to be joint final judges.

    And your comment was not mean-spirited in any way. Certainly far less mean than the original review which the author has already excused.

  67. KevinfromCanada Says:

    SFA (I know in North America that abbreviation raises other connotations — I’ll call you Fanny from now on, if that is okay): I have been retired for more than 10 years, read two or three books a week, and the pile of unread books keeps getting higher, so don’t hold your breath. Alternately (my solution), buy more book shelves now.

    Also, on this site “account” means “story” not “bill”. As long as you keep providing informed comments or perceptive questions (you already have a credit on both those “accounts”) you are part of the incredibly valuable “inventory” on which this blog depends. Thanks for signing on.

  68. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Pynchon is a terrible, terrible, train read.

    I love Pynchon. Reading him on a daily commute though was madness. I should have known better and it’s done him no favours at all.

    That aside, while I admit Kevin there are no fees for reading or commenting here but for you I wouldn’t have bought Guy Vanderhaeghe, Maile Meloy, Simon Mawer, Jean Echenoz or several John Berger’s (more precisely their books, I haven’t actually bought any of the authors) among quite a few others. This site has cost me a fair few quid, and I hope it long continues to do so.

  69. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: I would like to think you have got a fair return on your quid. I know that I have from the money that your blog has caused me to spend.

    While I think The Afterparty is an inferior work, I would be very interested in your thoughts if you did undertake it as a “train” read. It comes in 750-1,000 word chunks, which seems well suited to commuting. I’m sure you have wandered Soho and Kensington enough (and run into enough celebrity parties) that they will bring smiles of memory to your face. In no way is it bad — it just isn’t very good. That meets my criteria for a reasonable train/airplane book.

    ADDENDUM: You are allow to quit on page 125 if you find it unbearable. Not exactly sure how long your commute is, but I think that would be only two days.

  70. Lee Monks Says:

    What a fantastic set of exchanges! More! Don’t stop now! I will give The Afterparty a go, certainly. But will it (could it possibly be?) as good as this thread?

  71. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Lee: *blush* Thanks — I do think this discussion has been exceptional. And please report back once you have read the book. Would it be churlish of the curmudgeon in me to add “even if you abandon it”. Probably would, I’d say.

  72. Colette Jones Says:

    This is so brilliant. Please please please assure me that David is really Leo’s father. I love that but it is almost too good to be true.

    Jacqueline Howett should read this thread and take note on how to respond to criticism (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, search for BigAl Howett. I really don’t want to link to it).

    I will definitely give this book a try.

  73. John Self Says:

    My only remaining (rhetorical) questions are, if Leo Benedictus states that the marketing is all part of the fiction (or the fiction is part of the marketing, was it?), then does that mean the book will not be as good if it’s read after the publication hubbub dies down. Does the book stand on its own? Will it work for a reader in ten years’ time? (Will anyone be reading it in ten years’ time?)

    • kimbofo Says:

      Seeing as I am singing from a different hymn sheet to everyone else as far as this book is concerned, let me go out on a further limb: I read this book a month before publication when the marketing hadn’t kicked in and I loved it. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much — in fact I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading it at all — if I’d had a load of marketing bumpf shoved down my throat.

      As to whether anyone will be reading it in 10 years’ time, I can’t say. By then books will probably be zapped right into our brain while we’re sleeping so it will be a matter of whether LB’s publishers have bothered to make the book available in the new high-tech format ;-)

  74. Max Cairnduff Says:

    David could equally be Leo in playful mood. That’s the thing with those who say everyone online should be made to use real names rather than internet handles. What does that prove? Max Cairnduff could be a character from an sf novel I loved as a kid. My real name could be Gully Foyle…

    • Colette Jones Says:

      My real name is certainly not Colette Jones, but that’s not so obvious to anyone who isn’t a Gerard Woodward fan.

  75. leyla Says:

    I haven’t had time to read many of these comments yet but just wanted to add my voice to kimbofo’s. I *loved* this novel. My rave review of it in the Indepedent on Sunday is here:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-afterparty-by-leo-benedictus-2226590.html

  76. leyla Says:

    Indepedent? Indie-pedant might be a good name for me :-)
    I meant IndepeNdent

  77. Kerry Says:

    Kevin,

    I’ve just now caught up on all the comments. Great stuff. I still have zero desire to read the book, but Leo and his father were excellent. If he shows up on the Booker, I may reconsider my decision to avoid the book like anthrax.

  78. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kimbofo: Actually, if the comments on The Afterparty website are representative at all (and your, Leyla’s and my reviews are all quoted there), I’d have to say I am the one singing from the minority songsheet. It’s not like I have never been a lonely voice in the wilderness before.

    Also, the marketing bumpf is shoved down your throat in the fiction itself, including the clever appearance of the stand-in author. For me, without that this just would have been a not-very-good book, some decent satire but paper-thin characters and lacklustre writing. It really would be my idea of a Richard and Judy book with some minor tidying up of the language — that’s a long way from Calvino, Amis and Auster in my mind.

  79. david benedictus Says:

    Colette
    It’s a wise child that knows its own father, and the reverse may apply. But I think that I’m Leo’s Dad and his mother has always thought so too.

  80. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Ok, I said I would read this book, and so I did – sort of. Because I was charmed by the author and his Alleged Father, I ignored Other People’s opinions and picked it up. I have a rule when reading that if I’m struggling with a book, I read one third of it before casting it aside. I figure that’s a fair investment – in this case page 123 was the cutoff. I persisted to page 123, with considerable effort, and I have concluded this is not a book for me for 2 reasons:

    1. Nothing happens: A guy goes to a party and makes a Number Two in the bathroom. People snort coke everywhere. Emails about boring things go back and forth.
    2. The characters are veneer through and through. They are each about 1/8th of an inch deep, and indistinguishable from each other. I don’t care about any of them.

    Look, I can be as shallow as the next person, and I get that this is about the vacuous nature of shallow people. It just doesn’t really work.
    PG Wodehouse was also interested in this theme, but he really made it work by infusing his characters with eccentricities, writing funny dialogue and generally creating amusing situations against which this shallowness could be played out.

    Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I didn’t like it.

    • Colette Jones Says:

      Hm, I’m thinking of The Slap now. I hope this is better, but I like your “one third rule” and might just start applying that.

  81. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Hi Sheila

    I think your rule is very fair. Patient, even. If I can’t entertain you in 123 pages, well then, I can’t entertain you. What arrogance I have does not extend so far that I imagine only defects in a reader’s character could explain their failure to love my book. It needn’t be generational, either. I do know readers of your husband’s age and older who tore through The Afterparty. If people of any age can enjoy it, then I’m sure that people of any age may hate it too.

    Thanks at least for giving it a try. That is all I can ask of any reader; the rest is up to me.

    Best

    Leo

  82. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Leo:
    This is by far the most cntroversial review KFC has put up on his blog. Your book, and your participation, have inspired a very interesting exchange about a very important theme – where is literature going?
    So, good on you for writing it, for being out there with it, and best of luck.

  83. dovegreyreader Says:

    Doing my bit to get you to the 100 comment mark Kevin though I don’t think this needs my help, brilliant discussion!

    I am hoping for some enlightenment given Sheila’s reaction to the book which does reflect mine and I love the 1/8th veneer angle, and I’m wondering whether the celeb culture is as pervasive in Canada as it is here in the UK??
    It’s all avoidable of course depending on what you choose to read but still hard to sidestep. Do you have your Katie Prices and your Peter Andres and your Kerry Katonas (presumably togged up to the eyeballs against the cold!) vying for publicity every time they go shopping?? Somehow this was what brought on my bout of ennui, I couldn’t be bothered to explore or read about the ins and outs of these lives any more. It’s a daily dose of fiction of its own making here in the UK already without finding it in fiction that I might want to escape to as well, my tolerance levels for the subject matter clearly low.
    On another note, and with all respect to Leo for such gentlemanly conduct here, I also have to admit that the presence of e mail exchanges in a book has yet to be successfully rendered for me. Whereas the epistolary novel has been working since the year dot, the e mail with its particular linguistic characteristics seems to have limited literary potential. With the demise of the good old-fashioned hand-written letter we could well be heading for the future that Kevin fears. Letters just won’t fit a contemporaneous literary setting so it will be e mails or nowt.

  84. KevinfromCanada Says:

    DGR: I suspect that the email exchange (and the even briefer forms of texting and twittering) is going to become an ever more frequent from in contemporary epistolary novels. To date, I have found it as frustrating as you do.

    Canada is small enough (and close enough to the U.S.) that we don’t have an ever-present celebrity culture. Certainly we get an up-and-coming generation but they tend to head south in search of much greater riches and attention — showing up in U.S. fame for some years and then we tend to catch them again on the downward curve. Not much to make a work of fiction out of, although I can think of a couple of examples that explore that southern experience. Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce and the Giller-winning Clara Callan both contained that element — but both were also set in the past and spent most of the narrative on the rural/wilderness Canadian component. And yes the wilderness novel is still common in Canadian fiction — I just started another one, Alexi Zentner’s Touch this afternoon.

  85. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Will Self was good on the topic of abandoning a book part way through recently in an interview with Richard Littlejohn (of all people).

    “LITTLEJOHN: But you haven’t read the book in its totality and you have to read the book in its totality.

    SELF: Why?

    LITTLEJOHN: In order to understand it.

    SELF: Does it turn into Tolstoy at page 205?

    LITTLEJOHN: No it doesn’t turn into Tolstoy. I don’t set out to be Tolstoy. It is a much more complex book than that.

    SELF:Than Tolstoy?”

  86. The Real Leo Benedictus Says:

    Some imposter has been posting on here, disguised at me. What can I say – I think I’ve said it all in the book

    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Rather than send this comment to the trash, I thought I’d approve it as part of the fun of this debate and see what ideas others have.

      The required email address suggests that the previous Leo Benedictus is the real one — if he isn’t, he/she certainly writes more extended literate arguments than this one does.

      So what about this message? It has none of the links that mark most spam. A plot by the marketing campaign to bring the book back up the posts list? A backlash cadre? All thoughts welcome.

      (Okay, skeptics who figure that maybe I approved and responded to this just to get comments up to 100 on this post — a never-before-reached figure — have a very good case.)

    • Leo Benedictus Says:

      Nice try, The Real Leo Benedictus, but you don’t fool me. How do you think we should settle this?

      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Pistols at dawn is one option. Or leaning over a parapet and taking cellphone pictures.

        • The Real Leo Benedictus Says:

          Lets just agree to be really post-modern about this. I’ll let you masquerade as me, whoever you are, and you promise not to run up any large bills in my name at Groucho’s

  87. Craig D. Says:

    This talk of giving up on books reminded me of a great bit of morbid humor from one of my favorite comedians, Doug Stanhope: “Life is like a movie — if you’ve sat through more than half of it and it’s sucked every second so far, it probably isn’t going to get great right at the end and make it all worthwhile. No one should blame you for walking out early.” I won’t get into my philosophy on suicide, but this accurately describes my philosophy on giving up on books.

  88. Marijke Says:

    I loved this response from Leo:
    “Thanks at least for giving it a try. That is all I can ask of any reader; the rest is up to me.”

    As a writer myself, I definitely will keep this in mind. While I’ve not read the book and I believe I shall simply because of this exchange, he has won over a fan who will consider reading anything he writes in the future.

  89. shawna Says:

    Kevin, first off, thank you to you and Sheila for generously lending me this book to read.

    I was pretty sure before I started that I wouldn’t like this book, as my tastes tend more towards Austen and less towards Japanese girls’ cell phone messages, but I was curious to see if generationally it would resonate. I just finished it last night and my reaction was somewhat different than I expected. I kind of liked the book, in the same way that I kind of like reading the tabloid headlines while I’m waiting in the grocery line. It is a sort of guilty pleasure that can be used to fill otherwise unproductive time. That’s how I felt about this book and I have no issue with it on that basis, I think everyone needs some banality (a perfect description of this book) in life.

    Where I do take serious issue with the book though, is in the classification of it as literature, hyperfiction, post-post modern, and a new type of novel. I felt like it would comfortably belong with books like: “The Devil wears Prada,” “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” novels by Candace Bushnell, or any of the other innumerable celebrity, tabloid-style books. So, why is this one being considered anything different? Why is it being touted as a contender for prizes?

  90. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Shawna: I would agree with your comparisons. It is not a dreadful book — at times it is quite amusing. But it is hardly a ground-breaking literary work.

  91. Debbie8355 Says:

    Love your blog tagline! I think you should enter Leo’s competition which says at least one tweet per person will be printed in the appendix of the 2012 version. Direct them to your blog and advertise yourself :-)

    I’m one of those people who gave it 5 stars. The UK seems to be so immersed in celebrity reality tv culture and this book really sends it up while simultaneously echoing some real life Pete Doherty and Michael Barrymore tragedies. Innocent people have died around around them.
    I found it satirical, poignant and totally relevant.

  92. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Debbie: I’m afraid the tweet gimmick is one of the things that annoys me most in illustrating that marketing of the book is quite a bit more important than its content. Different books for different folks.

  93. John Self Says:

    It seems to me that shawna’s faint praise is the most damning response to this book yet. Anyway, my copy has – finally! – arrived, so I may even get around to responding myself. I must confess that I approach it with negative feelings, so it will be interesting to see if the writing can win me over.

    Related to that, and knowing of the difficulties which some very good writers have in getting published these days, I recall what someone who knows the publishing world quite well said to me recently. If a writer is good-looking, gives good interviews (or publicity) and their book can be summed up easily in a couple of sentences, then they may see their work on the shelves. If they aren’t, don’t, and it can’t, then they don’t really stand a chance. And the quality of their writing is of no consequence.

  94. leroyhunter Says:

    My God that’s a depressing post John. I suppose it’s not a surprise: just arresting to see it spelled out so starkly.

  95. John Self Says:

    It is leroy, but I think it’s broadly true. I should say my correspondent is not a publisher (so is not stating a policy), but a close observer of the industry.

    Many writers too are familiar with an increasingly common response from publishers when their agent submits a book. “We love it, it’s brilliant … but it won’t sell / it’s too ‘difficult’ / marketing can’t get an angle on it.” Which makes one wonder since when it became an editor’s job not to present good writing to the public, but to sell books which are easy to sell.

  96. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John: I agree that Shawna deserves 10 out of 10 for perceptiveness, conciseness and fairness — and I would reach the same conclusion from her observations that you have. Good luck with the book.

    In the same manner, the second paragraph of your comment (actually, both comments — I was drafting this as the second one arrived) pretty much sums up (in several hundred fewer words) the fear that I was trying to express in the original review.

  97. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John, Leroy: If you haven’t seen it, Marco left an interesting comment yesterday on the Camilleri The Shape of Water thread about how his Sicilian publisher wanted more Montalbano books from him after the first because their success subsidized the books that he most wanted to publish.

    I do think this conflict between quality and sellability has been a feature of the business for a long time. What disturbs me, is that “marketing” — at least with the example of The Afterparty — now flows into content, rather than evolving from it.

  98. John Self Says:

    More than that, Kevin, I think the situation described by Marco is what used to exist in UK publishing but does so no longer. The only books that they “most want” to publish are the ones that do make money. Editors are terrified of taking too many risks in case one or two of them don’t pay off.

    There are some UK houses which are pretty loyal to writers, such as Faber and Bloomsbury. It’s not uncommon to see writers stay at Faber their whole career (Kazuo Ishiguro, Peter Carey, Adam Mars-Jones etc). Other publishers, and I’d put the Penguin group at the top of the heap for this, seem quite ruthless about not giving writers an opportunity to build a readership and a career. I noticed this year that Ed O’Loughlin and Aatish Taseer, two recent Penguin debut novelists, both have their second novels published by other houses, presumably because their first didn’t do well enough. (And I suspect that you, Kevin, feel that O’Loughlin’s debut not doing well was precisely the right outcome!) I think taking the long view is the only proper thing to do if an editor really believes in a writer: look at Cape, who stuck with Anne Enright through low sales and eventually she hit the jackpot with the Booker.

  99. KevinfromCanada Says:

    John: I think the situation you describe in the UK is different from what we have in Canada — probably because governments here at both the federal and provincial level have publisher support programs designed to protect us from cultural domination by the elephant next door.

    The result is, if anything, that too many first novels get published. I know it is heresy to say that, but my friends in both the author festival and book retailing business tend to agree. And that does not mean that there aren’t high quality examples in that group — two of last year’s Giller shortlist, including the winner (The Sentimentalists and Light Lifting), came from small houses with initial press runs of about 1,000. Heck, anybody with an Apple program can publish their own quite high quality volumes.

    The problem (and this is where the situation you describe and Canada’s merge) is not getting the physical volume published, but rather letting potential readers know that it exists. That is where I am in complete agreement with you about the way most of the major houses (the only ones with marketing budgets) are changing the business. There has always been a balancing challenge to the “do we market the books we publish or do we only publish books we can market?” issue. What troubled me initially about The Afterparty is the way that that teeter-totter has become tilted with marketing moving into claims that I can only characterize as lies.

    I have no problem with this novel being published — Shawna’s comparisons are perfectly valid (it’s the book version of the tabloids at the supermarket checkout till). And even the silly promo gimmicks of publishing twitters seem to appeal to some. Penny dreadfuls have existed for centuries, this is just the 21st century version. It is when that gets proclaimed as “post-modern” or whatever and reviewers at once reputable publications start drinking that Koolaid that I get concerned.

    (I didn’t like O’Loughlin’s first book (review is here) but I would certainly rate it above this one, although hardly deserving of its place on the Booker longlist. Certainly, it showed enough potential that he deserves publication of a second novel. And if Penguin is dumping novelists who made the Booker list on their first try, things must be really bad over there.)

  100. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Appearance on the Booker longlist is perfectly consistent with low sales. That’s particularly true if a book is held in hardback too long. Booker longlistees in hardback can sell in the hundreds in the UK, not even the thousands. There’s a nice article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1562298/Man-Booker-Prize-shortlist-revealed.html discussing the issue. Most of the books in the shortlist that year were only selling hundreds of copies.

    If Penguin is aggressive in dropping authors that aren’t selling (and I’m sure John’s well informed on the point) then a Booker longlisting would be pretty much meaningless as it has very little actual sales impact.

  101. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I accept the point about a Booker listing not necessarily being reflected in sales. My argument would be that it is a fair reflection of “quality”. So I would hypothesize from the O’Loughlin example that the teeter-totter has tilted so badly that only sales count and even high quality ratings are not enough to justify a second book. Given that my wife’s hiking companion can produce a quite attractive, hardbound copy of the story and pictures of the trip (albeit in a press run of 10), actually producing the second novel is hardly a major investment.

    Distributing and marketing it, of course, is an entirely different issue — I would say that much of the argument in this comments exchange is about that investment, not the actual publishing of a book. If I recall correctly, John has indicated elsewhere that some authors (I think the example was the excellent Linda Grant, one of my favorite contemporary authors) have opted to decline offers to switch to big-name publishers because they feel their book will get lost in the mix — while fluff like this book get all the attention.

  102. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Fair points Kevin. I have to admit, were I a literary author I would rather be with a Tindal Street Press or similar whom I could count on to push my book as best they could than with a larger publisher who might just bung it on the shelves without promotion and then drop me when sales were disappointing.

    As you note, it’s not being published that’s the key issue. The major publishers will still publish literary works. They may though not work too hard to promote them (if a publisher paid for my notional book to be on the three-for-two tables or similar people will see it, if it’s filed under C for Cairnduff they probably won’t).

  103. Colette Jones Says:

    This continues to be a most interesting thread. It is interesting that even making the Booker shortlist does not help sales much. Certainly winning the Booker can make a big difference, going by the audience size of Anne Enright’s events at literary festivals.

  104. John Self Says:

    Just a note, Colette, but O’Loughlin didn’t make the Booker shortlist, just the longlist. I think the shortlist definitely does help sales quite a bit.

  105. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette, John: I have thought for some time that longlists are meant mainly for publishers — a heads-up that enough copies should be on hand if the book makes the shortlist. At least in Canada, that is when retailers start to pay attention and put up shortlist displays — I don’t think I’ve ever been in a store that did one for the longlist.

    It is true that there is a handful of readers (and bloggers) who pay attention to longlists (we happen to be three of them) but sales figures show it is not a particularly large group.

    And winning a prize certainly brings a huge boom in sales. Last year’s Giller winner, The Sentimentalists, had an initial press run of only 1,000 — published by an “artisanal” press that could only produce about 1,000 a week, copies were unavailable even when it won. A deal for a trade edition was struck and last I heard press runs were approaching 125,000.

  106. Colette Jones Says:

    I was going by the link from Max’s post, but looking at it now, it was probably the day the shortlist was announced so sales would not have kicked in yet.

  107. John Self Says:

    In fact Colette, the ‘poor sales’ the Telegraph reports are (on its own account) for just the first ten days of being longlisted, ie up to August 18th 2007. The shortlist was announced on 6 September (the day the article was published) so the figures were already three weeks out of date as soon as the article went up. Whether this was accidental I don’t know, but as I regard the Telegraph as one of the worst offenders in poor online journalism, I wouldn’t doubt that it was presented that way as a deliberate ‘angle’: poor sales shock!

  108. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I’d be interested in hearing from UK visitors here on what kind of publisher promotion is apparent for The Afterparty — book page ads, high street store displays, etc. One thing I can’t tell from Calgary, Alberta is whether this whole marketing thrust is confined to the novel itself (and its author) or whether all that stuff that annoys me is part of a broader, corporate marketing campaign.

  109. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I was in a brach of the excellent independent book chain Daunt Books the other day Kevin and this was prominent on their display which you see on entering the shop. That’s a prime position for getting the attention of casual browsers – I immediately noticed it.

    I don’t know how Daunt works, but I imagine someone behind the book is helping achieve that level of exposure within the shop. Next time I pass one I’ll check a Waterstones and see if it’s on their three for two displays – that’s a definite sign of a book being pushed.

  110. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Sorry for the double post, I thought of this point too late. I haven’t seen any ads but I wouldn’t expect to. The only books that get much by way of actual adverts tend to be real mass market books and this doesn’t sound like that. It’s not a major crime or thriller release or a major prizewinner. It’s a literary novel (even if not one you rate that’s clearly its niche) and they just don’t get advertised as a rule. Shop placement is far more key in my lay experience plus of course reviews in the right places.

  111. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Thanks, Max. And I would appreciate hearing if Waterstones is giving it prominence — I’d hypothesize that the Trafalgar store probably has a large display (and perhaps Picadilly as well) while the Hatchards’ outlet probably doesn’t. But that’s just the marketer in me scratching his head.

    If the publisher was really pushing it, I’d look for ads in publications like Time-Out rather than the traditional literary sources.

  112. leroyhunter Says:

    my local has The Afterparty as a “cover out” display – not quite 3 for 2 but it stands out from those around it (and I believe “cover out” is generally padi for).

    Interestingly, there is a spin on 3 for 2 running in-store at the moment – except it covers their stocks of NYRB and Melville House novellas. I had to stop myself from gathering up armloads.

  113. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Hi all – delighted to see that this is still going!

    Yes, The Afterparty is in the 3for2s at Waterstone’s (though perhaps not every branch?) so some kind of plot to bring about its triumph is indeed under way. Just don’t ask me how it works.

    Max, I have to ask: in which branch of Daunt did you see the display? It’s news to me!

    Also, the reason I came on here was to mention that I’ve written an opinion piece for the latest issue of Prospect magazine, arguing that negative book reviews, when honest, are good for everybody, and I’d like to see more of them. In it, I briefly mention this exchange. (You’re “a Canadian blogger”, Kevin, I hope you can live with that.) The piece is currently subscriber-only, but will be free online soon. Thought it might interest you, is all.

    L

  114. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Leo,

    Cheapside, where Alex Preston recently did a reading (natural pairing that – City author, City bookshop).

    There’s a window display, then a display right inside the door, then two bookcases of fiction still prominent and near the door but not quite so well placed as that first display. You’re in that latter section so in the third promotional tier I’d say but still very definitely promoted.

    I suspect the store’s a good match for you actually. I’m not sure why but instinctively this feels like a book that would play well to a City crowd (that’s not backhand, I work in the City myself).

    My local Waterstones didn’t have you on three-for-two. One of the exceptions I guess.

    On the bad review thing there’s no harm at all in getting some very negative reviews and some very positive ones, as you’ve had. What hurts is comments like Shawna’s. The Indie loving it and Kevin hating it says you took risks which paid off for some and not at all for others. Shawna basically says it’s ok which is much more offputting.

    Out of interest how will you follow up? It would be dangerous to do the metatrick twice I’d have thought for fear of becoming a one-trick pony (or worse, a sleb). Will your next novel be a three volume Victorian-pastiche by way of contrast?

  115. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Leo: Given the name I chose for the blog, I can hardly complain about being called “a Canadian blogger”. I’ll keep an eye out for when your piece is available — thanks for letting us know because it is a subject that does come up every now and then in the blogging community. I do think that this thread (and many thanks for your contribution to it) shows that a critical review can open a stimulating and worthwhile discussion.

    I didn’t mean to imply a plot when I was wondering about promotion of your book. What I was after was how much was what I’d call corporate marketing and how much author initiative. The responses would seem to indicate that the publisher is marketing the book as hard as you are.

  116. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Thanks Max – that’s very helpful.
    Kevin, that’s kind of you, but of course I don’t feel accused of plotting. (Even though I am.)

    On Shawna, you’re doing a good job of teasing a retaliation out of me, Max… But her experience, of course, is absolutely valid. My book, being read by her, under these circumstances, produces that opinion: I simply can’t debate this.

    As you would expect, however, my own opinion is a different one. On a sentence-by-sentence basis, I don’t think The Afterparty is at all comparable to the Shopaholic series, for instance. (Queasy about quoting myself in public, I can only illustrate this, really, by suggesting that you download the sample chapter.) That said, most people who enjoyed the book have commented on what a rapid read it was – more so, perhaps, than is usually the case with literary fiction. It is possible that this rapidity was what Shawna found entertaining but shallow. To me, however, and indeed to William Mendez, the importance of entertaining paying customers is something that it would be arrogant to disregard. All great novelists until the modernists saw themselves as entertainers; there should be no shame in the rest of us doing so today.

    As for what I do next, I’m already doing it. I think there is still a great deal more to be squeezed from meta-(and indeed hyper-)fiction. I would love to grow out of this, and write a more conventional book. Writing’s pleasure’s in the sentences, for me. But I know that I could not get comfortable without admitting there’s an author in the story; not doing so would feel like leaving half the canvas blank. (And I don’t think literary authors should ever feel comfortable unless they are trying to innovate, anyway.) Ebooks, meanwhile, also offer a whole range of new techniques that I am itching to try…

    L

  117. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Leo: You might want to get on to your publishers about making volumes available in Canada. It appears that Cape is sending volumes over here, rather than having a separate Canadian edition. While the stated release date is April 11, Chapters says books are “temporarily unavailable” and Amazon.ca says they only have one left. What is the point of my being part of this marketing campaign when Random House UK can’t even get books here? :-)

    Then again, maybe there is so much demand in the UK that the colonies (Old Dominion, actually) will just have to wait.

  118. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Leo,

    I wasn’t looking for you to retaliate. I was making a broader point about reviews. A mix of good and bad suggests a book may be interesting. What’s damaging is a consensus in the middle (which isn’t where you are of course). Sorry if that was unclear.

    Grow out of? That certainly wasn’t where I was heading. I was just teasing slightly. There’s nothing immature in playing with form or explicit inclusion of the author. It works or doesn’t, but it’s not a question of maturity. I don’t see the conventional novel as somehow more adult.

    Ebooks eh, are you looking at the iPad as a delivery platform too? Egan’s Goon Squad on the iPad has shuffleable chapters (very BS Johnson though it’s a bit odd having it introduced after publication) and the powerpoint section comes accompanied by the music referenced in it.

  119. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Sorry Max – all meant in play. I certainly do feel that there is something rather boyishly unnecessary about constantly reinventing things. Like children’s showing off, as you say, it either charms, or doesn’t. Goon Squad sounds strongly like my cup of tea. I’ll be reading it at my earliest.

    Kevin, thanks for those tips. I’ll get on to Random House about it. Jobs will be lost.

  120. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Jennifer Egan added the Pulitzer Prize for Goon Squad to her resume this week — I am feeling even more like the Curmudgeon from Canada than I did when I wrote the original review.

  121. Max Cairnduff Says:

    There was a comment on the Guardian from someone at her publishers saying that Goon Squad was originally short stories and they got bolted together.

    I find the shuffling idea very odd. Johnson designed his book that way. With Egan it feels more like a gimmick.

    You’re not the only person querying Egan by any means Kevin. There’s a commenter at the Guardian called PaulBowes01 who seems positively depressed that people think it’s experimental fiction. He argues it’s perfectly traditional fiction with a powerpoint bunged in the middle…

  122. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Those who are most positive about Goon Squad are the ones who see it as a collection of episodes that happen to feature the same characters. I didn’t see it as particularly experimental (with the exception of the Power Point chapter). My problem was that I didn’t find any of the characters very interesting, so my annoyance with what I saw as gimmicks started to swell. I would argue that other authors have used a similar technique where they leave “spaces” empty between episodes to better effect — Jean Echenoz’s Ravel and Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies (both reviewed on this blog) come to mind.

  123. shawna Says:

    Leo: first off, thank for taking the time to post your thoughts here, it has been excellent to get your perspectives on all of this. I do feel compelled to say, however, that I was not lured into the opinion that the book was shallow because of the rapidity of the read. I certainly don’t think that in order to be literary a book has to be difficult or not entertaining for the reader.

    One of the best books I read last year, In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut, was also, for example, a very quick read. The reason that book was great though was because the author managed to capture the emotions and the tensions that exist between people and between people and places. It was a book that probably took me less time to read than yours but has managed to stay with me for months afterwards.

    Keep up the good fight. I look forward to seeing the broader Canadian reaction when the book is available here.

  124. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Shawna: Thanks for checking in — I agree fully with your assessment, including your high opinion of In A Strange Room which was my personal choice for last year’s Booker Prize.

  125. Leo Benedictus Says:

    Thanks Shawna – mere speculation was all it was. I’m sure you had plenty of other reasons!
    Best
    Leo

  126. Colette Jones Says:

    I’m a bit late to the party. This became available recently at my library so I borrowed it. I liked seeing tweets from people I know (John Self, Scott Pack, and Phillip J Edwards) and Leyla’s comment on the back. What didn’t amuse me at all is the book within the book, which I only skimmed. (I did the same with Calvino.) The author’s appearance in the book was fine by me, and emails as part of the fiction does not bother me (e by Matt Beaumont consists entirely of fictionalized emails and is very funny). Someone commented above (Kerry) that mixing the gimicks was too much. I’d have to agree. There’s nothing really new about any of them; it is a mish-mash of so many styles I’ve read and enjoyed before, but I didn’t like them put together here.

  127. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: Almost a year on, the book has pretty much completed faded from memory, except, of course, for the gimmicks. As an exercise in marketing, it showed much innovation — now as then I would not extend that evaluation to the quality of the fiction involved.

    Decades back when I did newspaper book reviews it was regarded as gauche in the trade if one of your comments got picked up as a blurb. The publishers of The Afterparty have certainly turned that on on its head, at least with the social media commenters.

  128. Colette Jones Says:

    Some of the social media commentators were making fun of it though, I think.

    I don’t think you need to worry about contemporary fiction moving this way in general though. Gimicks really only work once if at all.

    Incidently, I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad. I don’t think it’s really that comparable to The Afterparty. The powerpoint chapter was more of an illustration of a character and worked just fine for me. I didn’t see that as a gimick. If she did it again in her next book though, I’d be disappointed.

  129. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: I agree — the commenters became part of the experience, whatever their take. I would make the same criticism of my review: it is probably more related to the hype than the book itself and your opinion, based on a reading when that static has long since disappeared, is a much fairer evaluation of it.

    You are also quite right about my take on contemporary fiction and this book — I think I was reacting to the promotion and some reviews (including the author’s opinion) which said The Afterparty was a dead-cert for Booker longlisting. Not only did it miss the Booker (I guess it wasn’t very good on the in-limo audo :-) ), as far as I can tell it didn’t make any prize longlist.

    I know that hits on this blog are hardly a prime indicator but you might be interested in a comparison with hits from The Sense of an Ending. The comments debate here (and it was comments, not my review, that brought the traffic) produced major hits for The Afterparty in March and April, but after that it was one per day for three or four months, and one every two days after that. Barnes’ book, meanwhile, produced about 30 hits a day starting in October (I’d actually reviewed it a couple months earlier, but the Booker bumped traffic up) and that has continued until last month, when it dropped to about 20, still far more than for Benedictus. I think it is fair to conclude that Benedictus was a flash in the pan, Barnes does have staying power.

    And with the benefit of hindsight, I think you make a good point about Jennifer Egan’s book. While she used some similar devices, she definitely did that for more literary effect and did it much more successfully. Certainly, the critical response to her book was much more positive and I think that is legitimate, even if I did not like her book that much.

  130. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Colette: A question. Should I read volume three in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series next or launch into the Gerard Woodward trilogy that provides your nom-de-web? Woodward’s books have been on the agenda for a while — the problem is that starting them opens a fairly major project.

  131. Colette Jones Says:

    Give August a try and see what you think of Colette. You probably shouldn’t read them back to back, it might be too much of the Joneses.

    I have been meaning to read another Ripley, still only the one for me so far.

    I am about to start Absolution by Patrick Flanery. It’s getting some good reviews. I’m not doing Booker speculation this year – I’ll just see what comes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 441 other followers