(Blurbworld! is a crime/romance/sci-fi/satirical novel to be serialized here and on my blog in coming months. A blurb is a comment highlighted on the cover of a book, usually provided by another author or culled from a review. They’re often misleading and typically repeat a somewhat tired comparative trope: eg. “Jonathan Safran Foer is the Philip Roth of vegetarianism.” Imagine that awful world. Now step inside….)
The methane stink of the steelworks, manufacturer of our economy’s most vital product, rose through the damp air of Newport, the Middlesboro of South Wales, as I prepared for the first day of my book tour. A stunning new novel, a stylish new voice. I unwrapped the golden foil of a Sissi Taler and cracked through the bitter chocolate to the apricot-marzipan truffle cream beneath. An exquisite combination. Then she came in.
She was slim and dark-haired with skin like the finish on a BMW Z4 Roadster (Joy’s Inner Beauty Illuminates It). From the tiny carved lovespoon dangling off the zip of her shoulder bag, I knew she was Welsh. She was tough and sexy, the Welsh Lauren Bacall, except that she wasn’t blonde. I’d have said she was the Welsh Catherine Zeta Jones, except that Catherine Zeta Jones is Welsh. I saw that she had shattered my cool. I slipped out of blurbing.
“How did you get in here, sweetheart?” I asked.
“Better ask how you’re going to get me out of here.” She winked with the stylish poise of literary fiction and the breakneck pace of a thriller.
I saw then that no matter how I tried to forget that I lived in Blurbland!, Blurbland! owned me. It was in everything I said and read, all the words I heard, engraved in every surface of every object around me. I dreamed of blurbs and, so, my therapist suggested my blurbs contained some hidden nugget of truth I should ferret out. I told my therapist I thought blurbs were just there to get your own name on the cover of someone else’s book and thence to persuade an occasional reader to give your novels a try. “That’s pretty promiscuous,” my therapist said, “and promiscuity is an easy opportunity for escape from reality, as Jung said.”
“Jung, the Freud of Switzerland,” I said.
“See what I mean?” said my therapist, who is first-rate, astonishing, splendid, an utterly convincing character.
“But blurbs aren’t really true. There are other motives for saying the things we read in blurbs, and we can’t possibly know them, and yet they’re set before us as if they were true.”
“Blurbs, then, are the unconscious of their writers, transmitted through a set of distantiated barriers to reality.”
He really will blow your mind, I thought. Mind-blowing, I edited.
The musk of the girl’s perfume and the shape of her leg drew me back to my office, as she slipped herself onto the edge of my desk.
“I’m here to interview you about your new book,” she purred. “It’s an acute portrayal of a man driven to despair whose only choice is to face down the dark forces pursuing him.”
“Quite.” I pushed the box of chocolates toward her. “Would you like a Sissi Taler? They’re the ––”
“––Empress of the Mozartkugel line.”
I gasped. “Yes, yes.”
She took out a notebook and sucked at the end of her pen. “I’m thinking of calling you the Stieg Larsson of South Wales.”
“I prefer to think of myself as the Graham Greene of Gwent.” Gwent was the county where Newport was situated. It was notable – at least to those who didn’t live there — mostly for the motorway that ran, quickly, through it.
“Yes, but I don’t think people really know that reference.”
“Gwent? You think it should be Monmouth?” The county’s name was changed from Monmouth to Gwent in the ‘Seventies. Then part of it was changed back again, but another part retained the new name. I think. No one could ever remember which bit was named what.
“No, Graham Greene. He sounds like a BBC Radio 4 humourist or a Liberal Democrat. The Minister of State for Agriculture and Fisheries.”
Had I not wanted to have sex with her, I would have been affronted. “Greene was the Joseph Conrad of mid-Twentieth Century English letters.”
“It won’t do. How do you like the Mickey Spillane of Spytty?” she said. Spytty was an urban neighbourhood of Newport famous for being not so nice. It was pronounced “spitty.”
“Perhaps you’d agree to the Philip Roth of Risca?” I suggested. Risca was an area on the edge of Newport. It had a dangerous-sounding name but was famous for nothing.
“Philip Roth? Did you marry a Communist?” She tapped the end of her pen against her teeth and poked the tip of her tongue out. “Or do you have a romantic attachment to refrigerated liver?”
She’d taken the initiative from the moment she came in. I decided to reassert myself. I stood up from my desk chair, brushed a crumb of Sissi Taler from my lip, and leaned in close. “No romantic attachment to liver or to anything else, sweetheart,” I said. “Now why don’t you tell me why you really came here?”