LIST OF THE LOST by Morrissey (Penguin Books, 2015)
“If you must write prose and poems, the words you use must be your own. Don’t plagiarise or take on loan” – lyrics from Cemetry Gates by The Smiths.
The kindest thing you can say about Stephen Patrick Morrissey’s first, and surely last, published work of fiction is that he follows his own advice and writes in his own words.
Some lines would even make admirable song lyrics :
“Accept the enslavement of my undying love,
Or bear my unpleasant cruelty,
For dearly I love you,
More than any other could”
Unfortunately, this is not a record but a novella and the results are positively dire.
Before you accuse me of being yet another Morrissey hater, I should say that I have been a huge fan of his since The Smiths’ debut single Hand In Glove, the B-side of which was a live version of Handsome Devil. As soon as I heard the line “There’s more to life than books, you know – but not much more” I was hooked. I knew they were the band for me.
I therefore take no pleasure in declaring List Of The Lost to be an abject failure which should never have seen the light of day.
Morrissey’s autobiography showed that the Manc could write but, being way too long, it also revealed that he was sorely in need of a good editor. It seems plain to me that he either stubbornly goes it alone without asking for anyone else’s advice or else surrounds himself with hangers-on who never criticise his actions.
An honest straight-talking friend would have taken him aside and told him in no uncertain terms that presenting this tale for public scrutiny (and inevitable ridicule) would be a grave mistake.
So what’s so bad?
For starters, a lack of a coherent storyline or consistent voice are major problems. These aspects might not have mattered if there were any believable, or halfway likeable, characters but there aren’t any. All we have is a mish-mash of half-formed ideas built very loosely around a relay team preparing for a big race. The only explanation for this sporting scenario I can think of is that it gives Morrissey scope to objectively homoeroticise young male bodies.,
Add to this the amateurish accumulation of alliterative phrases which fails to mask the absence of any poetry or elegance in the writing. So we are treated to clunky images of “plungingly plump parents”, are invited to “track the tracksters down with trap-tackle” and taken to a “sordid spot shaded by a shambles of overhanging oak trees”.
Morrissey’s misanthropy which is full of self-deprecating wit on record comes across as bitter and mean-spirited on the page as, for instance, when he dismisses the greater part of the human race as “the flapping mediocrities that make up the simple-minded majority”.
Similarly, barbed comments about familiar targets like the Royal Family, the meat industry, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the judicial system are randomly inserted into the story and add nothing to the narrative.
Read between the lines and you discover a morbid preoccupation for ageing and death, subjects that could have been turned into an effective black comedy. This, however, would have required a lightness of touch which is entirely absent here.
If after this shambles, Morrissey nurses the notion that he has any credibility as a novelist, he would do well to recall the words he wrote in Frankly Mr Shankly: “Fame fame fatal fame; it can play hideous tricks on the brain”.