Death of 1000 Cuts slices and dices Morrissey's List of the Lost
Tim Clare casts his eye over Morrissey’s debut novel to explain all the poor reviews
Morrissey’s debut novel List of the Lost was released yesterday to resounding jeers and bemusement. For every reviewer reeling off why it just isn’t that good, there’s a fan crying that Morrissey’s genius isn’t understood. Award-winning author and poet, Tim Clare, writes a blog called Death of 1000 Cuts, where he critiques the first page of new authors’ work and explains (in no uncertain terms) what they can do if they are serious about improving their writing. We asked him to have a look and see if the criticism for List of the Lost is justified.
Ezra, Nails, Harri, Justy.
A punchy opening bid. Four idiosyncratic proper nouns with no explanatory fluff. The understated trochaic rhythm lends the line a subtle cadence. Nice work!
You’d dig hard and deep to excavate four names quite so unusual.
Sweet creeping Christ. We know. Laboured excavation metaphors aside, it blunts the impact of your first line if you immediately follow up with an explanation of its underlying mechanics.
It’s like if Melville had opened Moby Dick with: Call me Ishmael. You’d cast your nets far and wide to catch a command quite so enigmatically redolent of the Old Testament.
Henry James once complained of the writer who ‘intrudes like a Greek chorus to underline his meaning’. Here you’re intruding like a smug, crapulent uncle digging us in the ribs during the wedding reception to explain why the remark he just made was particularly witty.
Yet there they were and there they stood, sounding exactly like what they were.
‘there they were’ is implied by ‘there they stood’. You know that, right? Reasserting the ontological integrity of your characters this early in the novel smacks of panic, frankly. It’s like writing: ‘Graham definitely existed and he drank a coffee’.
‘sounding exactly like what they were’ is one of those phrases that disintegrates under scrutiny. It’s like fifty squirrels in a man suit trying to sneak into the opera. In fact, this phrase only makes sense if the missing value is ‘a teetering edifice of self-indulgent bullshit’.
You would be offered a hearty shake of the javelin hand as expressions of possession of command from the four boys, each one fully developed into the blissful torment of their turnabout twentieth year – a pleasantly resolved marital union almost closed off in its camaraderie to the onlookers of the mookish greater world.
This sudden switch to the conditional mood (‘you would’ vs ‘there they stood’) serves absolutely no purpose except, I suppose, to hang like a grisly totem over the entrance of the novel, asserting to all who enter ‘NO EDITORS SHALL PASS’.
The internal rhymes of ‘hand’/’command’ and ‘expressions’/’possession’ resound with the unmistakable clank of a gigantic tin ear for prose. I haven’t read a sentence this gloriously foul since the opening to Amanda McKittrick Ros’ Delina Delaney, which Northrop Frye diagnosed as suffering ‘a kind of literary diabetes’.
Look at them now in their manful splendor and wonder…
You’ve switched to the present tense! I can’t believe it! Actually laudable in its wretched majesty.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition, Morrissey, and we must remember that the ability to write a novel is not a referendum on one’s value as a human being. Prose this garishly purple implies a lack of confidence. Try to execute a simple declarative sentence before moving onto more complex constructions. Verbosity does not make you James Joyce. It makes you a boor.
List of the Lost, out now via Penguin