Monthly Archives: April 2013

Kanye please both just go away?

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s baby is due in July, and a birth hasn’t been anticipated this much since I was bestowed on a grateful world back in the seventies. (Yes, I really am that old. I know I don’t look it, but that’s down to good genes and regular moisturising). And before that, there was Jesus. But mostly, my birth is the benchmark by which these things are measured.

Until now. The Kimye sprog is about to become the single most significant human being in history.

Uh, that’s being sarcastic? Of course it isn’t – the nipper will in all likelihood have as pointless and empty an existence as its loathsome parents – but judging by the amount of press coverage and public attention it’s received, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

And it has a whole lifetime of this to look forward to, if that’s the right term. The baby’s parents are quite possibly the biggest attention-whores this world has ever seen – and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition – and the world reciprocates by providing every bit of attention they crave.

Like, I literally saw an article the other day about “Kim’s new bangs”. “Bangs” is an annoying and misleading American term for what civilised human beings call a fringe, but I digress. The point is that it was deemed worthwhile to report the fact that Kim Kar-crash-ian – chuckle – had slightly modified her hairdo.

Meanwhile this unfathomably popular oxygen-thief and her misogynist mutt of a fella have been more-or-less selling their own child’s gestation, and presumably soon the birth, for a worldwide audience of anonymous losers, creeps and obsessives. Though at least they haven’t released a video of its conception. Yet.

The kid’s life is already for sale and it hasn’t even been born. It’s hilarious, it’s terrifying, it’s tragic, it’s it’s it’s…just the absolute apex (or is that nadir?) of celebrity culture.

So we’ve decided to take a sneaky peek into the future and assess just how this life will pan out once it’s, you know, begun and stuff? Which it’s about to do with the…

 

Birth: July 2013.

Media coverage of birth: Live web-feed on Kanye West’s official site, constant flood of tweets from everyone involved – including the midwife and hospital domestics – and edited highlights on whatever Kardashian reality thing is currently ruining television for everyone.

What they’ll do with the placenta: Kim will eat it in tablet form, after putting a little aside to be made into cosmetics. It’s uterus-tastic for your skin!

Price for first pics of baby: Two million, paid by OK! Magazine after a frenzied bidding war.

Price for pics of placenta: Fifty grand, paid by a sexual deviant somewhere in the Far East – no bidding war required.

Potential names: Boadeeshia, Planet Orange, Emphysema Oblongata, La-TrayVayn, Bob. Or a mix of all of the above.

First papped: Coming out of the hospital.

First papped in a situation that hadn’t obviously been set up by its horrible parents: A week later, at home in the mansion. Paparazzo using a tall stepladder, zoom-lens and his uncommonly long neck.

First appearance on TV: Has already appeared, as guest star on the special “birth” episode of “Khrist Above these Kardashians just Keep on Koming”, the reality show all other reality shows bow down to and call “Master”. Other than that, first TV spot will be with mommy and daddy as part of an interview with whichever helmet-haired harridan pays them the most.

First fashion line: Launched at age one. Bespoke dribble bibs, Egyptian cotton vests with Kimye’s faces embroidered on, hand-woven blankies to go nap-nap in real style.

First TV starring role: “My Supermodel Baby”, a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at a world that really is filled with tears and tantrums. The supermodel babies rule the infantile fashion world with a chubby fist, literally throw their toys out of the pram when their assistants bring back the wrong decaff mocachinatto Ribena, and get cast aside for a younger model when they reach their sell-by age of two-and-a-bit. Episode 1: Babette refuses to get out of her dirty nappy for less than ten grand, and Leonora charges twice that just to go burpies.

First arrest: for driving while baked to the gills on primo-grade pot, aged 16.

First marriage: to the guy who arrested her, aged 17.

First divorce: that week.

First nervous breakdown: also that week.

First check-in to Betty Ford clinic for treatment for whatever the hell addiction is going: the following week.

Triumphant return to good health and of course, the magazine stands: six months later.

Settles down to meaningless existence of fame, publicity, endless self-promotion and several soul-destroying marriages of convenience: aged 21.

How depressing is this: monumental.

And who do we blame for it: Kim and Kanye, those krass kretins. Kurse them to hell.

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Recent reviews for Polka Dot Girl

Last Saturday in the Irish Independent, their reviewer gave The Polka Dot Girl some big love:

“McManus has created a fascinating, and richly detailed, alternate all-female universe; you are well into the gripping mystery before you realise there are no men…Eugenie Auf der Maur is a brilliantly evoked amalgam of pulp heroes such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, all hardboiled attitude and wisecracking lip…It’s a brilliant idea and McManus carries it off with style.”

Meanwhile, t’other week on RTE Radio 1’s Arena, Declan Burke said something along the lines of, “Fantastic set-up…normal hardboiled detective setting – the difference is, this is an all-woman cast…very tapped into that Chandler/Hammett style…also brings in elements of classical mythology…Genie is quite endearingly vulnerable…(the book is) a very interesting and intriguing addition to the genre.” Arena, RTE Radio 1

 

The Polka Dot Girl is still available to buy here and here. So go buy!


It’s good to talk

This truly is an egalitarian age. For proof, look no further than premium-cost phone chat-lines.

Once these were the sole preserve of men. Sad, weird or lonely men. These days chat-lines are enthusiastically marketed at women via TV, magazines and a terrifyingly enormous number of specialist websites.

You’ll notice I’ve said “chat-line” as opposed to “sex-line”. We all know the point of these services, but the industry likes to sell itself as more innocent. So they use terms like “chat-line”, “make friends” or “let’s party”.

However, this can cause confusion in befuddled minds like mine. Recently a young lady on television informed me she was at a really happening party, and wouldn’t I like to be there?

The way she was smiling pleasantly and twirling her hair convinced me this lass was of thoroughly agreeable character. And the fact she was naked and straddling a chair convinced me she wasn’t lying about how hot that party was.

So I called, eagerly anticipating a roaring good time: drinks, canapés, light yet intelligent conversation. However, it proved a terrible letdown:

Party girl: Hi, you’ve reached the party-line. We’re only getting started…

Me: Hi, how’s the party going? Many showed up yet?

Girl: Ooh, yeah, baby. All sorts of gorgeous girls here, waiting for you…

Me: Anyone I know?  I don’t like going to functions where I don’t know anyone. Get a bit nervous, you know yourself.

Girl: Um…I’m sure we’ll all get really friendly. Tell me what you desire in…

Me: Do I bring my own booze or what? Don’t wanna look cheap, turning up without a bottle.

Girl: Um…it doesn’t matter what…

Me: Maybe you should tell me what you have already. I think there’s a bottle of Malibu lying around somewhere? Ooh, and I’ll bring nachos. A party’s gotta have nachos, right?

Girl: Listen, I don’t know what your game is…

Me: C’mere, what kind of sounds you got? Please tell me it’s not all rave.

Girl: I’ve had enough of…

Me: I could bring some old funk albums? Guaranteed to get your booty shakin’!

Girl: I’m hanging up. If you call again I’m getting the police.

(clicking noise)

Me: How odd. We seem to have been disconnected. And I didn’t even get the address.

A few days later, a different girl declared in a magazine advert, “We love to chat.” Who better to call when seeking a friendly ear? Oh, how wrong I was….

Chat-line girl: You’ve reached 0800 Naughty Chat. Where the talk is hotter than…

Me: How’s she cuttin’?

Girl: Hey there, you sexy thing. Want to know what I’m wearing?

Me: Listen, I have to tell you this. You’ll never guess who I met today.

Girl: I think I can… A sexy girl in a negligee?

Me: No, silly! It was Fr Curtin. Hadn’t seen him in years. Remember him? From the boys’ school. Gammy eye. Always told Kerryman jokes.

Girl: Uh…sounds hot. Do you want to invite…

Me: Anyway, that’s my little bit of news. What’re you up to yourself?

Girl: Right now I’m running my hand…

Me: C’mere, did you ever finish that ould FÁS course? Hairdressing. Or is that your sister I’m thinking of?

Girl: What are you…?

Me: Ah, must be the sister. I’m always mixing up the pair of you.

Girl: I don’t have a sister. Who is this?

Me: I suppose you’ll be planting the ould roses and shrubs and whatnot now, for summer. Ah yeah. The bit of a garden is lovely…

(clicking noise)

Me: How odd. I seem to have been disconnected again. (pause) And blast, I never found out if she remembered old Curtin or not.

 

  • First published in the Irish Independent April 6

Review of Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

BOOK REVIEW

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Mohsin Hamid

Hamish Hamilton, €18.50

 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia tells the gripping, decade-by-decade story of one nameless man’s life, from babyhood to death. There’s a sort of Slumdog Millionaire vibe as we follow the rise of a poor boy from rural Pakistan to financial success.

One of only three surviving children, the boy moves with his family to an unnamed city. As youngest child – the older siblings must work or marry young – he gets an education, then slowly builds up a bottled water business and gathers the accoutrements of wealth: nice house, fancy car, large staff, armed bodyguards.

He marries, has a child, neglects his wife, divorces. The business continues to grow, with new contracts for municipal water supply, dealing with some scary people in Pakistan’s military-industrial complex. He’s an economic success at least, though vaguely dissatisfied in his heart. Eventually his manager insists they load the company with massive debt in order to “grow” – and the edifice he’s so painstakingly assembled becomes in danger of falling apart.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a classic rags-to-riches story, so familiar to us, that mad scramble for money and status. Running throughout is our hero’s lifelong love for “the pretty girl”, their relationship stymied by fate and poor choices.

The novel is written by Mohsin Hamid, whose previous work, 2007’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, was a critical and commercial smash. Shortlisted for the Booker and IMPAC Prize, it was named New York Times Book of the Year, while The Guardian declared it one of the decade’s seminal works. Within months of publication, this story of a Pakistani man called Changez, struggling to adapt to post-911 America, was a staple on college curriculums.

It was also a best-seller, and has now been made into a movie of the same name, out this May. Starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson and Liev Schrieber, the screenplay was co-written by Hamid himself.

The author, like Changez, has lived in the US, both as child and adult. His peripatetic existence also brought him to Britain, Greece and elsewhere. This, you feel, gives Hamid an especially clear view of many of his new book’s major themes: the modern technology economy, the shrinking of our planet, the impulses and currents that drive global capitalism.

On one level How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a simple boy-loses-girl romance. But on another, it’s the history of a rapidly changing land, and a lucid explanation of how economics and politics work. As the title suggests, “Rising Asia” is as much a character as any individual, and the book gives great insight into these Tiger-ish economies striving to usurp the West.

It’s presented as a pastiche of a self-help book, addressed to a fictional “you”, which is interesting and very appropriate: those kind of texts, one imagines, would be devoured by the hungry young talents of modern Pakistan, sensing opportunity for their country and themselves, determined to finish first in the great race of life.

Each chapter begins with a self-help platitude – don’t fall in love, ensure you have good contacts, and so on – then moves onto the main narrative. This structure makes it the first novel I’ve read that’s written in the second-person, and it’s a testament to Hamid’s skill that he uses this voice so successfully.

I flew through the novel, and particularly appreciated how he didn’t predictably dwell on capturing the smells, sounds and textures of Pakistan, thus giving the book a more universal feel. Anyone can relate to the likeable hero’s triumphs and falls.

The prose is good, though prone to the odd clumsy formulation: “He catches a bus to the century-old, and hence in city historical terms neither recent nor ancient, European-designed commercial district.” It stands up grammatically but just sounds wrong to the ear.

When he hits the mark, though, Hamid’s prose really sings. Here he compares the dangerous, exhausting work of a painter to life as an astronaut: “It too involves the hiss of air, the feeling of weightlessness, the sudden pressure headaches and nausea, the precariousness that results when an organic being and a machine are fused together.”

It’s funny, too: a man’s hair is described as “so thick he could safely ride a motorcycle without a helmet”. The conversations between the hero and his sweetheart are charming and often comical.

That, and they, are the heart of this book. Their star-crossed romance is treated with tenderness and wistfulness by Hamid, and is hugely moving at times. It’s almost certainly the first literary novel that had me close to tears. Most of them are so chilly and distant, but this is full of love: love for family and friends, love of life, character love and authorial love for those characters.

Ultimately, it’s that age-old story of a man gaining the world but losing his soul. Money will certainly improve your life if you don’t have any, but after a certain point, it won’t make you happy. And the sacrifices in acquiring it might just be your ruination.

 

  • First published in the Irish Independent

 

  • Darragh McManus’ crime novel The Polka Dot Girl is out now

Review of Patrick McGinley’s Bogmail

BOOK REVIEW

Bogmail

Patrick McGinley

New Island, €10.99

 

The late 1970s, a small Donegal village. Local publican Roarty kills his barman with a whack of an encyclopaedia to the head, for reasons soon revealed. He buries the body in a bog, certain he’s committed the perfect crime but terrified he’s overlooked something. Then a blackmail demand arrives, putting the heart crossways in Roarty. A severed foot follows. Out of his mind with panic, he begins to suspect visiting English engineer Potter, and wonders if his should be the next body destined for the bog…

If ever proof was needed that art is not a meritocracy, and success relies more on luck than talent, you’ll find it in Patrick McGinley’s Bogmail. First published in 1978, reissued by New Island, this is not just a great crime novel but great work of literature.

That’s by the highest standards. Crime aficionados often claim their genre is artistically comparable to classic literature, which usually isn’t true. But Bogmail is wonderful: lyrical, astute, with a psychological depth and philosophical/theological heft equal to Dostoyevsky or Greene.

Yet it remained unheralded and virtually unknown. I’d never heard of book or author until recently, although BBC adapted it in 1991, a series TG4 recently reran.

How is this possible? McGinley is a tremendous writer. He creates great characters, fully fleshed-out and believable. Their interactions with each other, and the murky depths of their inner lives, are thrilling and moving.

From a plot perspective, it’s similar to Francis Iles’ seminal 1931 mystery Malice Aforethought, in that we know the killer from the off; less “whodunit” than “will he get caught?” Still, there is genuine tension, tightening like a noose, as Roarty fights to keep it together until he can divine the blackmailer’s identity.

What really sets Bogmail apart is the writing quality. It could have literally no story and remain an enthralling read, such is McGinley’s skill and vision.

As well as Dostoyevsky and Greene, parts of the novel read like Italo Calvino, others like Flann O’Brien, though without the self-conscious playfulness – this is a deadly serious book at its core. (Having said that, it’s hilarious in parts, especially the pub conversations.)

Though Bogmail flows smoothly, some of the language has a sort of charming formality to it; it’s almost genteel at times, in the best tradition of Christie and other cosy mysteries. The book is peppered with obscure words, archaic phraseology, technical terms, dollops of Hiberno-English. None of this is showy, but fits seamlessly into, and serves, the narrative entire.

The first piece of advice any good writer gives to a wannabe is: read as much and as widely as you can. Bogmail was clearly written by someone who has read a lot. And for us, there’s the added pleasure of a great book set in Ireland: the familiarity enriches its universal themes.

Bogmail has an appropriately ambiguous ending – it chimes with an earlier scene, where a piece of music reminds Roarty of life’s fundamental uncertainty – but there’s nothing ambiguous about the sheer brilliance of this novel. Like a disinterred bog body it’s now enjoying a second life; maybe there is justice after all, in art if not law.

  • First published in the Irish Independent April 6