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OF REMARKABLE ORIGINAL FICTION

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Desperate Times

If anyone has any doubt that we live in desperate times – which, according to the country song, means we should all think seriously about robbing banks for a living: not a bad idea in principle, since the banks seem to have robbed and ripped-off just about everyone lately; but as they don’t have any real money it’s perhaps not such a practical idea at the moment – so if, as we were saying, anyone doubts that times are desperate, and if the plight of the banks doesn’t convince them (sorry – him or her), then a person might consider the scrape in which ITV finds itself.
Our authority for this musing comes from The Times of London of 10 March 2009, and in particular Andrew Billen’s column in Times 2 (page 18). Wherein Billen reports the financially beleaguered ITV as saying that in future “it will not do anything as highbrow and experimental” as Lost in Austen.
Lost in Austen was a jeu d’esprit of a short ‘drama series’, in which a comely young lady of our own day, by means and for reasons not entirely explained, managed to swap eras and circumstances with Elizabeth Bennett – she of Pride and Prejudice – and win the heart of Mr Darcy. Miss Bennett was content to remain in the 21st century, rejoicing in a mobile telephone while (perhaps it’s an organic thing) apparently not noticing that children’s dental health might be better ensured with brush and paste than with twig and soot. So everyone lived happily ever after. We suppose.
To these giddy heights of intellectual intrigue, ITV is now saying it will not take us in future. In one sense, the world will scarcely be the poorer. Lost in Austen, whatever ITV or Andrew Billen may proclaim or even think [sic], was neither highbrow nor experimental. Nothing wrong with its bit of fun, but. It was a piece of whimsy, and about as taxing mentally as deciding how to deal with a stick of candyfloss on a windy overcast day on Bournemouth beach without getting either the pink stuff or sand in your hair (or both at once).
Answer, by the way: look sulky, don’t accept the treacherously smiling offers of candy floss – always pressed most enthusiastically by elder sisters of dubious motive – and ask Father why you can’t try some of what he’s got in that nice curved leather-covered silver flask that he keeps testing so carefully. You may get an earful, but at least the ear won’t be gummed up with spun sugar and sand (and perhaps an ant). In other words, if you wanted something highbrow and experimental, you would not choose to watch Lost in Austen. You might not choose to watch television, let alone ITV, at all.
But we do live in desperate times. This, according to what used to be a newspaper displaying some acumen across a broad range of its correspondents, the paper that said the Foreign Secretary was a better man drunk than the Prime Minister sober – in the days when we knew who was the Foreign Secretary – this is “highbrow”.
Our conclusion is that the things that beset ITV, which include both a besetting slump in revenue and a (to ITV) dread growth in competing digital channels – should be encouraged to prosper, and eat the ghastly thing up. If television is going to be any use to anyone at all, then the fewer cretinized monoliths it has and the more special-interest channels with genuinely dedicated producers, the better. People seem to be making money out of channels devoted to subjects as diverse as bridal shopping, jazz, paranormal claptrap, horses and ponies and country sports, military history, and unattainably expensive motor cars. Why stop there?
Otherwise, television is worth watching for (a) old movies (b) the occasional documentary – BBC4 and Channel Five seem to be winning this race – and (b) the news when it is news, such as the outbreak of a decently noticeable war or a monstrosity like 9/11. ITV could stick to that formula and maybe still make some money, if they improved the quality of the movies.
Is there a way of making decent TV out of literature? A way, that is, of treating Jane Austen in the ‘highbrow’ (horrible middlebrow word, actually) manner – the simple, subtle respect – she actually deserves, on TV? We don’t think so, but then we love books, their smell and texture, the heft in the hand and the setting of elegant type, the way a single sentence lit upon while looking for another will hold one entranced for an hour, stirring up so many unexpected reflections. But a decent treatment of books by ‘the media’ really ought to tempt someone with an eye or ear to radio. The ‘broadsheet’ newspapers don’t have the space or the budgets to do more than they do, and you can’t browse the web while driving the car.
Meanwhile, those who care will keep on reading. Occasionally hoping. These are desperate times, but interesting ones too.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The New Golden Treasury

Like everyone else, we get spam in our electronic mailboxes and, presumably like everyone else’s, these messages generally want to flog us fake Rolexes, fake Viagra, and disconcerting bits of kit guaranteed – that’s what it says here – to wang up the dimensions of one’s wanger to a startling degree. (Ladies must get so fed up with this stuff.)
We used to bin spam after a brief pause to appreciate the fine fake names of the senders: Jasper McCracken, Farruggio Remlinger, Moi Ultratumba, Redenius Roiger, Prince Shapiro, Zombo Quaintance, Aida Dailey, Clayton Guidry, Russett Fydenkevez, Curdy Knippel… Douglas Adams had nothing on this lot. It almost tempts one to bash out a potboiler just so they don’t go to waste.
But we don’t throw them away unread any more. Not since we opened one by accident, and went so far as to peruse it. Now we read each one with care, in hope, with excited anticipation. For here be jewels.
Presumably to defeat servers’ spam filters, these things contain not-quite random, not quite meaningless… verbal passages, shall we call them. And, dearly beloved, there are gems of near-poetry among them. And perhaps nuggets of near-wisdom too.
Consider:

Which had chilled with horror all
even in that excuse for
absenteeism.
And this funeral is indubitably about an inch
long.
Mingle it amongst the meat,
receding down the passage 
towards the hall.
And the afterportion, which stuck out of the water,
has slain the victim. He puts together
the end two collars
and binds them up in fine white clouts,
and makes intricate
channels, hard to trace in that I AM.
But I was fool enough
to be mad without the sixpence.
“I only said God sent it,”
said Mrs Stop.
“Life is hard on clemency.”

Indeed. For as T.S. Eliot didn’t say, it takes more than the idle stirrup-pump to extinguish hell. Now try this:

Crost in their desires, they shall bless
thy memory, fixedly at the door. After a moment
or two there, it seemeth not possible
that the eight, being brought good conduct,
implied modesty and candour. To tremble
like the wielder of the thunderbolt.

That last phrase actually comes from the epic Sanskrit text, the Mahabharata – Book VI, ‘Bhishma Parva’, section LXXX. Who’s complaining? Other spammers are much obsessed with food. Well, obviously, if you think about spam – and should you think it’s food, and not just an edible nightmare.

Intrust thyself apples, in laid tarts,
or to make a slic’d tart moment
to be completely filled
with dog. Cerberus and the work
of proofreading and revision began..

Then, with the aid of the groom and the stableboy,
’cide when it happened. Umm, he said. Did I forget
thirty thousand souls? These figures, the natives said,
or good strong mutton broth
to make a paste for a lord.

Burly cynical Frenchmen and the diaphanous dancers
have been good enough to draw up, and I
am bound to it with verjuice, butter, sugar,
claret or whitewine, so much so
that they all took off their hats,
and slic’d lemon. Another forced dish.
Take two.

Now, it is only fair to admit we have edited these gems, but only a weeny bit. Shakespeare has to put up with as much, after all. One feels an anthology coming on… for do we not have here the beginnings of a new Palgrave for the electronic age?

Inspiration
These spam poems are anonymous (although they perhaps should be credited to Messrs Knippel, McCracken, Ultratumba, etc.). Which made us ponder: there is a paradox about the internet’s infestations of individuals and their publicly paraded intimate interests, as seen on Facebook and all the rest. Somehow, the flat neutrality of the medium, and the sheer numbers of these advertisements of the ego, make these indubitably real people anonymous – a mob, not even a crowd. Which was never the idea. This is a thought to be developed elsewhere…

Correction
Thanks to FireCrest author Jean Bonnin for pointing out that we mistakenly attributed the invention of Deconstructionism to Jean Baudrillard. The guilty party is Jacques Derrida. Or rather was; he died in 2004. His other claims to fame include lack of philosophical clarity, intentional obfuscation, nihilism, plagiarism, and making “little more than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship”. Can’t help thinking Baudrillard had a point.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

How Pure Thou Art

Over the last week or more BBC4 aired various documentaries about the American folk-music revivals of the Forties and early Sixties. We were struck, as we were not at the time (we were very young), by the righteousness of so many of the singers. True, in the early Sixties there was much in the United States to be righteously indignant about for a decent young white American. Even the endless – both innumerable and long-winded – dirges against ‘war’ were forgivable among ones so young and insulated. This was, after all, before Vietnam began to bite.
But we’re not talking about decent feelings, so much as smug arrogance. Apart from the protest songs, there was a massive resurrection of the ballad tradition. Performing it, rows of earnest young singers, some wonderfully talented, glowed with their own revealed virtue. For the first time in history they’d discovered this astonishing music, much of it three or four centuries old at least, and Lord did it show. And there was Joan Baez, aged all of twenty, introducing Dylan’s recusant ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ by facetiously dedicating it to all the married people in the audience. “I guess I’m just anti-marriage,” she muttered finally, before commencing to trill. Nothing like getting the crowd on your side. On the whole this was a generation that preached harmony and tolerance while displaying a rare talent for conjuring enemies to loathe.
The worst of the lot was, and remains, that fatuous leftie Pete Seeger, who plainly despises the suburban classes  (‘Little Boxes’) – his greatest market. To this day he seems incapable of singing or even talking to anybody without peering down his nose at them. There is something powerfully repellent about Seeger and his air of incurable self-satisfaction, on stage or off, warbling in his reedy sanctimonious tones. This is, of course, the man who wanted to take an axe to the power cables when Dylan freaked out the folkies at Newport in 1965 with one of the greatest songs ever written. Wickedly – maybe with satanic commercial intent – Dylan was thrashing an electric guitar.
Seeger was, maybe still is (incredibly he’s still alive), a communist, and we all know that they’ve solved all the world’s problems. They know it better than anyone, of course. And plus ça change, though no one’s a communist these days.
We see from the public prints that Carol Thatcher, who through no fault of her own is the fruit of the loins of the Official Demon of the Age, is likely to get the sack from the BBC for uttering the word ‘golliwog’ in what’s generally deemed a private place. Jeremy Clarkson is getting flak for having called a Mr Gordon Brown, presently besmirching one of the great offices of the British state, a ‘one-eyed Scottish idiot’. (Which surely is merely a recital of facts.)
The uproar these idle remarks has generated almost matches in factitiousness the outcry that was generated when, at the height of a media frenzy about ‘knife crime’ a few months ago, some home-made-haloed souls got into a great taking because someone was selling a trainer called ‘Air Stab’. To their eternal discredit the retailer took the shoes off the market. We thought ‘Air Stab’ was merely redolent of an air guitar, as harmless an instrument as was ever invented. It actually meant ‘air stability’, apparently a reference to the ingenious design of the trainers’ soles. Nothing to do with bloody knives. But you can’t be too careful, can you.
It’s the carefulness that bothers, spreading like a fungus throughout the land. Now consider this:
“In a massive investment programme across the 1880s Jerzy… built Raifort and the railway there to house his peons. He imported coolies and dagoes and cockneys, and wops and spicks and niggers and kikes.”
When we read that in The Extraordinary Consequences of Señor Higgins’s Holiday in Estragon (an unusually fine novel published by FireCrest) we did raise an eyebrow. As we were meant to, for the author continues:
“He despised them all, with a cool egalitarianism that disgusted his father, but admired the muscle and energy and loyalty he extracted from them in return for cash. By the standards of the time, he paid them well, for he thought it madness to have a workforce that was starving and miserable. The company store in Raifort sold food, alcohol and women – these last also imported, for no local labour made itself available – at reasonable rates. There was even a pension scheme.”
Not only does that make clear the nature of Jerzy’s (un)enlightened self-interest, it plays tricks on our own presumptions. P.L. Frankson, the author, does this frequently throughout the book, to variously serious and highly entertaining effect. But the racism here is the character’s, not Frankson’s. It calls for only a smidgeon of subtlety to work this out, if a bit more to see how the technique is working.
Even so it’ll probably offend someone. Well, tough titty. But we suffer under a widespread presumption that ‘offensiveness’, like harrassment in the workplace, exists even if it is perceived only in the mind of the self-defining victim. Never mind if the “victim” is stupid, easily confused, politically motivated, attention-seeking, a pathological liar, slightly mad, or just hates the alleged perpetrator. It is now officially wicked to offend anyone (except Christians, the English, Mrs Thatcher, white men, and the overweight). That makes sinners of must of us, but it’s a neat way to divide and rule.
One wonders how long it will be before publishers even of fiction will habitually start to censor themselves lest they offend some, er, one-eyed Scottish idiot – for want of a better example – for fear of the consequences. We say ‘habitually’ because it’s already happened once that we know of, in the sad case of The Jewel of Medina (see the October archive). One could be depressed about this, as at any other irrational fear taking hold in the minds of the otherwise sane. Or perhaps it will encourage the already devious minds of novelists to find ways of saying exactly what they want but with greater cunning. This might do the art of the novel no harm at all. Whether publishers will recognize such books as art any more readily than they do now is another question.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

How Not To Read?

The Common Pursuit of True Judgement
      Needing something not too demanding to cope while away the insomniac hours, we picked up John le Carré’s Single & Single and enjoyed ourselves over several nights (mornings, to most of you). We don’t like blurb-writers’ inadvertent spoilers – no FireCrest blurb ever gives anything away – so we didn’t read the back of the book until we’d finished it.
      Someone not named at the Glasgow Herald called the book a “masterly work, faultless fiction of the highest order.” Someone equally, and fortunately, anonymous, included this in the blurb: “…a thrilling journey of the contemporary human heart – intimate, magical, riotous, and subtly architected…”
     This is the kind of thing that makes one reach for one’s revolver, only to realize that our clinically deluded government confiscated all three of them a dozen or so years ago. Deep breath. Perhaps pen mightier than pistol after all. If only. Let’s hope. Another deep breath.
     This isn’t a rant against le Carré, but about a collapse of critical judgement. For masterly le Carré surely is – at a certain kind of intelligent ephemera, excellent for otherwise dull train journeys, whiling away a dose of ’flu, or indeed dealing with insomnia. His characters are just the other side of predictable, which keeps one going, but they are so because he is careful to make them somewhat enigmatic – or perhaps because he’s already writing at his limit and not capable of probing them any more deeply. When the protagonists fall in love, le Carré doesn’t show this happening, we’re just pereptorily informed it’s happened. So much for a “journey of the human heart”. This isn’t, couldn’t possibly be, fiction of the highest order, except possibly to commuters who read only on planes and trains and have never brought themselves, feet on earth or bums on seats, to try anything better.
     Le Carré did once publish an attempt at what would now fatuously be labelled “literary fiction” – The Naïve and Sentimental Lover, a sub-Donleavian ramble around a bunch of quasi-psychopathic manipulators and their victim. It entirely lacks Donleavy’s splendidly vulgar comedy or his plangent sadness, both welling from a constant intuition that things can fall apart – for better or worse – at any moment. And Donleavy can certainly show people falling in love. In comparison, the best le Carré can offer is a kind of cynicism. He did well to return to writing the higher class of thriller.
     Le Carré’s best book is probably The Little Drummer Girl, but it’s not a fine work because of any exploration of an intimate human condition. It’s brilliant in the way Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet is on India – not for any literary subtlety, but for its acute dramatic exposition of labyrinthine and near-intractable Middle East politics. Unfortunately his ‘solution’ (something a novelist ought know to avoid) almost amounts to the triteness of “all you need is love”.
     We hope le Carré has winced at the thought that any of his books had been “subtly architected”. But then a world in which anyone can get away with a phrase like that, is probably not seven leagues from the one in which le Carré is deemed to write “fiction of the highest order”.

A Bit More Dawkins
      Having been bemused by radical mis- or even non-readings of my piece in Fortean Times on Richard Dawkins (see below), I’m now bemused by the (published) reactions of the magazine’s readers. I won’t tire everyone with the details, but correspondents to FT overwhelmingly seem to take it for granted that to set about the mode of Dawkins’s polemic is implicitly to be arguing a case for God (or gods). This is a bit painful, as I’d been quite explicit – and, I thought, lucidly so – in saying that various particulars of Dawkins’s enormous rant made little sense regardless of one’s particular beliefs. Nonetheless, I am taken to task for arguing for something I didn’t. Irritatingly, the editors have closed the correspondence, so I can’t deliver the proper riposte in their pages. Yes, Virginia, I am whingeing.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Welcome to an Impossible Experience

We’re delighted to be able to tell everyone that we’ve signed Jean Bonnin, a man who was once a political philosopher and an ‘underground’ musician. FireCrest will be releasing his novel A Certain Experience of the Impossible (ISBN 978-1-906174-07-1) in May.

We bumped into Jean at the Hay Festival a couple of years ago, and found ourselves chuckling immoderately at each other’s slightly off-beam take on the world about us. It turned out he was wondering if we might be interested in republishing any of his distinguished father’s highly original historical work. We weren’t, but we did discover that Papa Georges Bonnin was in the French resistance and only just escaped being executed by the Nazis, and on his deathbed insisted on teaching one of his nurses The Marseillaise; and he had a habit of wearing odd socks (which was endearing to us, as we do the same, if for a different reason). His last words – “Let’s have champagne and oysters in Arcachon!” – ought to be in any decent anthology of famous last utterances.

Somehow all this softened us up for the suggestion that we might care to read the first few chapters of Jean’s novel. Which we found irresistibly strange, and wanted to read the rest. Obviously we won’t give away the plot, but we will give our first reaction to it:

Has Harold Pinter bumped into long-lost occult wisdom in this novel?
Or has Jean Baudrillard met his fate at the hands of Dennis Wheatley?
Perhaps Paul Auster has been talking to the Third Policeman?

If you want to find out more, we’ll have the full blurb and an extract, and so on, on the website in a few days’ time.

By the way. The fey title is the non-explanation of deconstructionism given by its inventor, the afore-mentioned and egregious Jean Baudrillard. Readers may be assured that A Certain Experience is nothing so tacky as a deconstructionist novel, but a thoroughly layered psychological mystery. Baudrillard and his weird little po-mo tribe would probably hate it for being (a) lucidly written, (b) witty, and (c) comprehensible. In fact, it reminded us a bit of that fine film The Sixth Sense, because almost everything in it acquires a new meaning on second reading. So – a mystery in more senses than one, indeed.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Diplomacy of Disbelief

Noël, Noël—Hell, No

We hope all our readers survived the rigours of the Yuletide festivities and wish them all – indeed everyone – a happy New Year.
        We don’t do Christianity, but for decades it’s seemed to us necessary to bear witness at divine service (midnight mass at Brompton Oratory was a favourite spectacle) at this time of year. So in due course we drove over to Myndtown, where the scattered rustics properly insist on having their carol service after the Event, so to speak – celebrating what’s happened, not anticipating it. Besides the excellent mulled wine served after the service helps dispel any lingering headaches.
        We now have to discard our habitual Olympian pronoun…
        Showing the flag in this fashion had a particular edge this year for me as I’d just published a fairly wide-ranging assault on Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.[1] When this came out I had a quick heads-up at the reviews, grimaced, and turned to doing something useful—frightening small children who don’t look where they’re going in the supermarket, or whatever it was. But Dawkins’s tome became a phenomenon; he kept cropping up on TV, ostensibly to praise Darwin but actually to bury God; then I read a passing reference to Dawkins that mocked him as an ignorant, unimaginative buffoon. I thought the writer had a point.
        Then the Lord shone his countenance upon me one day in a charity shop, and I was able to acquire a copy of The God Delusion, free of the displeasure that its author would see any of my money. I read the book, found it wanting, and tapped out my review. The reactions were interesting. One post on a message board usually dedicated to putting the boot into allegedly paranormal phenomena referred to me as “a UFO enthusiast”, which suggests these chaps don’t know their enemy (or their friends) as well as they ought: I’ve been putting the boot into UFO claims for donkeys’ years. But the logic went, apparently: UFO enthusiasts must be wrong about Dawkins (who doesn’t do the paranormal either). Logical, er, no. And, of course, no one actually addressed any of the points in the article; the “discussion” soon began to demonstrate robust signs of confident and erudite intellectual muscle as people fell to calling one another “twats” and so on.
        Dawkins has a fan club posting messages on his own website. An entity calling itself “Extant” said: “It's an odd, ranging, sort-of piece, with bucketloads of denial, ignorance or forgetfulness on fundamental issues such as the anthropic principle. It appears to place a lot of capital upon the supposed significance of human creativity in the creative arts, proving the undeniable existence of a Creator god....”
        Oh, really? Now, as it happens, the anthropic principle seems to me (pace Dawkins) to be neither here nor there in demonstrating a case for or against either God or atheism. And I’ve no interest in defending the factitious claptrap of creationism or intelligent design. So my conscience remains unstricken at having failed to address the question. I have on the other hand occasionally been accused of flaunting my erudition, so to be condemned as ignorant is at least new, if not refreshing.
        What I absolutely didn’t say is that human creativity ‘proves’ the “undeniable existence of a creator God”. How could it? Human creativity proves that people are creative. Good for them. I didn’t even mention a “creator” God at all in this context. Which is not surprising: as the article observes, even should God exist, there’s no way of knowing if He is a product of ‘creation’ or the instigator of it. Atually the article took no position at all on the existence or otherwise of God. So I am left with the wan suspicion that the writer can’t read, or has a tropical case of false memory syndrome.
        'Extant' promises a “more-detailed” critique of my article (not apparent at the time of writing). If it turns out to be as barkingly inaccurate as his first attempt, it should provide more occasion for merriment, as well as sport for pig stickers. At the moment one’s left with the impression that *any* criticism of Dawkins induces such panic in some of his flank-rubbing fans that they are driven to see things that are not there, and can’t or won’t address those that are. I do not think the Professor needs friends like that.

Footnote
[1] See Fortean Times, issue 244 (December 2008)

More soon on the remarkable and original fiction soon forthcoming from FireCrest...



Monday, 24 November 2008

A Veritable Onion

We’ve been sent a review copy of The Grassy Knoll Badgeman by Alan J. Summers (AuthorHouse, £10.99, ISBN 978-1-4343-8673-1). The book is listed as a novel but is an apparently factual account, written in a detached academic style, of sundry shenanigans perpetrated by one Robert Elmer Kleasen—a real person, in whom we have an abiding interest.
Kleasen, who died a few years ago in prison in England, had an undistinguished career in the United States in various jails (both as inmate and guard), as a taxidermist, an amateur gunsmith and fanatically dedicated hunter, a mental-health patient and, finally, as convicted murderer. Sent to death row in Texas in 1975 for the murder of two Mormon missionaries, he was released on appeal over a legal technicality, then jailed again for firearms offences, then finally pitched up in England in 1990. Where, of course, no one knew him. To the extent that Humberside police considered him upright enough to grant him a firearms dealer’s licence. He abused that dispensation and found himself back in jail, where he eventually died awaiting extradition to the USA.
In England Kleasen re-invented himself several times over. He told people he’d been born in Germany, where he’d been a star member of the Hitler Youth; he’d come to the USA with his father, a rocket scientist, who was imported under Operation Paperclip. He somehow acquired a Medal of Honor, which he occasionally wore, claiming to have been awarded it for flying bombing missions for the US Air Force at the Battle of Inchon in Korea. As a matter of history, air support for the Inchon landing came solely from carrier-based US Marine Corps planes; and unsurprisingly the official list of MoH recipients doesn’t include his name. Kleasen had then—among many other things—flown U2 spy planes for the CIA, been a member of a Swedish delegation to North Viet Nam, and been a professor of German at the American University in Beirut (in the 1980s when he was actually in jail); he later fought for the PLO. Some stories would change over the years and careful listeners noted that sometimes he seemed to have been in two places at once.
Those who both knew Kleasen well and knew the truth concluded that he wasn’t, precisely, lying about all this. Of course it was all howling claptrap and baloney, but it seems Kleasen had come to believe his own fantasies: his false memories had superseded (perhaps eliminated) his real ones. But he did talk a lot about Che Guevara, and in such a way that it seemed likely that he had known the man—quite possibly meeting him in Mexico in the 1950s.
Now along comes Alan J. Summers—apparently an American—to fill in some of the gaps in Kleasen’s life story, real and unreal. According to Summers, Kleasen has three more amazing claims to fame: in Cuba after the revolution he operated as Herman Marks, otherwise known only as a shadowy US citizen who worked as an enthusiastic executioner for Castro and Guevara; he was the mysterious ‘badgeman’ photographed shooting at John F. Kennedy on the grassy knoll on 22 November 1963; and he was the CIA operative who gave the coup de grâce to Guevara when he was captured in Bolivia in October 1967.
It’s possible to fit the stories Summers tells into Kleasen’s non-fictional biography, but they smack delightfully of the kind of tall tale the man himself was so adept at spinning. But this is one of the pleasures of the book. We can leave others to debunk these episodes in detail. Meanwhile, Summers seems to have concocted a bunch of plausible yarns about a man who turned his whole life into an epic yarn. The sedate style is a fine pastiche of factual biographical writing. It clothes the narrative with a kind of sober respectability—and a deep ambiguity that perfectly suits the many-layered life of Kleasen himself. There is something strangely satisfying in the thought of creating believable whoppers about a man who believed his own falsehoods. Quite post-modern, really, except that it’s highly readable. Recommended!