Magazine article The Spectator

Too French by Half

Magazine article The Spectator

Too French by Half

Article excerpt

ANTHOLOGY OF APPARITIONS by Simon Liberati Pushkin Press, £12, pp. 139, ISBN 1901285588 . £9.60 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Take Harold Pinter: dismissed at the outset for having written an impenetrable play, but who nearly 50 years on ends up being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. I ask you, who'd be a critic? I mention this by way of an apology should, in 50 years' time, Simon Liberati pick up a gong of similar importance.

Because right now, his debut makes little sense.

It's very French, in a surreal, selfabsorbed type way. At its core lies an exposé of a debauched layer of society, comprising a flaky group of world-weary, heroin-addicted teenage prostitutes and equally louche adults. The novel's semihero is Claude, a man of 'Luciferian beauty' who in his forties is haunted by the memories (or apparitions) of girls he has slept with and pimped for. These include his sexually precocious sister Marina, who was seduced by her psychiatrist when 12, and who has been missing since June 1986. The question posed in the opening pages (what happened to Marina? ) is only partially answered in the novel's final paragraphs. In between, Liberati treats us to a meandering series of scenes in which sex and drugs are sought, bitchy quips are uttered and humanity is impaired.

It reads as if it's been written in a narcotic haze and maybe one has to be in one to enjoy it. It's one thing to depict successfully (and therefore obliquely comment on) the dreary lives of people who regard sleeping with a Rolling Stone, or being kissed by Bianca Jagger, as the height of sophistication and fulfilment; it's quite another to inject it with narrative drive (or even a plot? …

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