Magazine article The Spectator

The Best Possible Ragbag

Magazine article The Spectator

The Best Possible Ragbag

Article excerpt

GIG: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A ROCK-STAR FANTASIST by Simon Armitage Viking, £16.99, pp. 303, ISBN 9780670915804 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

I love books like this. A writer writing about what he knows and what he loves and things he has done, with absolutely no thought as to the marketability of the book when it comes out. This very slight lack of focus has already been reflected in a couple of reviews. What is it, fish or fowl? The publishers, probably scratching their heads and wondering which shelf it'll be put on, will no doubt classify it as 'music' or maybe 'autobiography', as all the chain bookshops like their non-fiction easily categorisable.

I have to admit that this is an old beef of mine. While a history book is clearly a history book, and Jordan's latest memoir goes on the big table for thickies near the door, too many interesting non-fiction titles don't quite fit into any obvious categories, so that in most bookshops you can never find them. It's what we might call the Geoff Dyer Problem. Is Out of Sheer Rage, his wonderful book about not writing a book about D. H. Lawrence, literary criticism?

Biography? Humour? Travel? Psychology?

When you go into a shop like Daunt's in Marylebone High Street and see its 'General Non-Fiction' section, full of things you have failed to track down elsewhere, you almost want to weep with relief.

Anyway, please forgive the rant -- but it is relevant to this book. Simon Armitage is of course our best known younger poet, who has expanded his literary production over the years into novels, plays, libretti and quirky travel books, not to mention documentaries for radio and television. In short, he has an eventful life, and Gig -- possibly the least inspiring title in publishing history -- is his way of trying to make sense of it all. 'Poets tend to look for coincidence and synchronicity, even when it doesn't exist, ' he writes, connecting two otherwise unconnected stories, but it could operate as a statement of policy for the whole book, for Armitage leaps apparently effortlessly from reminiscence to reportage and back, with loads of room for rumination in between.

In other words, it's all a bit of a ragbag, but in the best possible sense of that word. …

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