‘Scribble, scribble, scribble.’ ‘Clump, clump, clump.’ ‘Asargelusha! Trojan fizzigigs!’ It can’t be easy to be inside Simon Louvish’s head when all you wanted was a quiet Sunday afternoon nap and a cup of tea. This, the third mono-tyrade in the Blok series, is the literary equivalent of a double espresso. Avram Blok is released from the State Mental Hospital, back into a red-eyed, hoarse-throated Israeli landscape filled with lunatic rabbis, corrupt politicians and a constant stream of refugee story-lines. Read it with pleasure and enjoy Louvish’s screwball humour and brimming imagination.
This collection brings together The Wrong Set, Such Darling Dodos and A Bit off the Map, which saw Wilson move from 1949 into 1957. Highly entertaining, strenuously camp and shoddily high-brow, they shine out like cheap diamonds among the postwar rations. ‘Only the frou-frou of Margaret’s skirt broke the silence as she moved about the room, rearranging the sprigs of winter jasmine.’ Wilson delights in embellishing poky corners that most storytellers would have left alone, and to read him is to share that indistinct pleasure.
Arising from a series of talks at the ICA in London, this collection gives plenty of sacred cows a good beating. Imagine, then, my reaction at seeing this entry in the index: ‘Shakespeare, studied in the Caribbean.’ With trembling fingers I looked it up, but – panic over, the verb was a passive, not an active.
Just how ideologically unsound is Cagney & Lacey? What has happened to the women-only scenes in Coronation Street since 1970? Why don’t our women poets pack out football stadia, like the Romanian Marin Sorescu? Is it because they can’t play football? These and many such questions are chewed at length, and the result is a fascinating hotch-potch.
On 7th February 1849, at Still Pond heights, Maryland, James ‘Yankee’ Sullivan fought Tom Hyer for a purse of $10,000. It was the most famous in a series of bare-knuckle fights that swept America for over fifty years. A report of the gruelling Lilly–McCoy fight comments: ‘Round 76th – (McCoy’s) eyelids were so swollen and stiff, with extravasated blood, that he was obliged to throw his head back, and expose his neck to the enemy, to enable him to look through the slight crevice left …’ Of course it was hugely popular, and clubs like Harry Hill’s, ‘The’ Allen’s Bal Mabelle and Owney Geogheghan’s Bastille on the Bowery all had their audiences, some of which included ‘criminals, street-walkers, transvestites, and homosexuals.’ Strangely enough, Oscar Wilde was frequently to be found at such events, taking notes on behalf of young Queensberry, no doubt. The pictures are superb, and the details of the great fights, and the great fists, no less entertaining. Charles Dana, editor of the New York Sun, commented on Sullivan that he dined like Gargantua, drank like Gambrinus, had the strength of Samson and the ferocity of Achilles. Funny, I thought I heard Harry Carpenter saying the same thing about Mike Tyson.
Once upon a time there were several narrative units or ‘motifs’ which were assembled into ‘tale types’ or unit patterns and, over the next thousand years, in countries far and wide, these unit patterns took the basic Cinderella story down paths long and wide, and perilously close to the outer edges of feasibility. And now Neil Philip has assembled 24 of them, which show how in some cases Cinders, or Yehhsien, or Askenbasken, or Ashy Pelt, or Dona Labismina, had to endure such humiliations as a father inclining to incest, or a jealous stepmother, or a father who – like Lear – expels her for not expressing sufficient adoration of him. In some stories, too, the sisters snip their feet in order to fit that slipper. Endless variations: the kids will love it, and there’s not one ‘Oh-yes-I-did’ in the book.
Or Robin Hode, or Robert Hood, or Roger of Doncaster and his mates Litull John, Will Scarloke and Maid Matilda. In a fine display of scholarly nosiness, Prof Holt squints through ultra-violet light at an unending series of faded marriage documents and grain tallies, upseating hazy notions such as the idea that Hood fought against the Normans in 1066, and that he was the lover of the prioress of Kirklees. Possibly – I’ll go no further than that – the tale began with the Clim of the Clough, but who is to say that it wasn’t Fulk fitz Warin? He was definitely a yeoman, though, and not a knight or a dispossessed nobleman, and he enjoys the distinction of having an article in the Dictionary of National Biography ‘devoted entirely to arguing that he never existed.’ Whatever will these chaps give us next: eleven variants of why the chicken crossed the road, and an informed guess about the identity of the real Aladdin?