Monday, 11 February 2008

Mamet in a box

No page-one CB headlines. W was last seen wrapped in a Polish flag, after the Colony Room reading. Jennie wants me to engineer her a contract to do the authorised biography of Dimitri Mascarenhas (who hits sixes, and ‘is energetic in the field, with a good arm’ – Jonathan Agnew). And you can now buy the books in Foyles (Charing Cross Road), which has over the past few years become one of those shops you go into thinking they can’t possibly stock what I’m looking for and they do, and have a great cafĂ© too.

So, a digression on David Mamet. His London revivals are, I gather, being praised, his New York new plays being panned, and I’m guessing the man himself is shrugging, and chuckling. (I warmed to this man some time ago, when I read his reply to an interviewer’s solemn question about his motives for directing the film of The Browning Version: he went into a long story about a dog that he loved, and the dog was kidnapped, and eventually the kidnappers got in touch to say that he could have the dog back only if he promised to make a film of The Browning Version.)

In 2000 he published Wilson, a novel of sorts, composed of fragments, made-up epigrams, quotes and misquotes, arguments, red herrings and other fish, and footnotes of various kinds and footnotes to those footnotes – much pleasure was had in the design (Ron Costley) and typesetting (Jill Burrows). It’s either a masterpiece or so wilful and indulgent as to be unreadable (from a UK review: ‘The whole thing flew so far over my head, I didn’t even hear it pass. In fact I didn’t even understand the blurb’). (In the book itself a footnote quotes a review of a book titled The Life History of Civilization: ‘either a work of overwhelming invention or a vast pile of shit’.) Or, more likely, it’s neither, but simply one of those books you disappear into for periods of relaxed bamboozlement (taking it lightly: academic seriousness is what it feeds off, chews up and spits out). I lent out my own copy years ago. But today I found another, in a box of free books in a basement corridor: shop-soiled books, or books printed upside down, or books that have nothing wrong with them at all except that – despite the blurbs: tour de force, witty and insightful, coruscating analysis of the moral vacuum at the heart of contemporary society, heartbreaking account of a young girl's coming-of-age – no one wants to read them. Some of life’s good things are still free.

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