Sunday, 30 September 2012

More people are rich than poor

Reading this fascinating essay by John Quiggin on Keynes and 'achievable utopia', I was pulled up short by the following sentence.  After noting that 'A billion or so people live in destitution, and billions more are poor by any reasonable standard' he goes on to suggest that this is the first time in history when human productive capacity means that nobody need be poor. Then this bombshell:
In fact, more people are rich, by any reasonable historical standard, than are poor.
If this goes on, 'the poor' will become a minority; a sort of elite.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Super-Obvious Observations About Pop Music #2

It's about youth.  Even when it deals with topics more usually associated with middle- or old-age, it inflects its treatment through the lens of youth: energy, sex, moving forward.  There is such a thing as tragic pop, but even the tragedy is articulated as a hope ('hope I die before I get old').

Friday, 28 September 2012

Ambient temperature

I generally work in coffee shops.  From time to time I come to the Costa that is part of a large superstore a short-ish cycle ride from my house.  In the summer, when the days were too hot to move outside in anything more than shorts and T shirt, I came here several times, and within minutes of starting tapping at my computer I was so cold I had to put a sweater on.  The first time this happened I was caught on the hop, and had to go get a fleece top from the superstore's clothing department.  Thank you, air-con!--a coffee shop full of people sitting in their coats looking through the window at folk outside walking in next to nothing.  Today it is cold; I have come wearing a vest and shirt, with a sweater in my satchel.  But because, I presume, some notional  date-marker has been passed the air-con is off and the heating is on, I am sitting here in shirtsleeves, and actually I'm a little warm.  The energy that is pumped into making me, alternately, too cold or too hot.  Western civilisation: the future is looking at us now, through their historicoscopes, and they are not pleased.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


‘Kindly mother of the twin Cupids, favour me!’ I said.
 She glanced back towards her poet: ‘Why do you
Need me?’ she said. ‘Surely, you sing greater themes.
Have you some old wound lingering in your heart?’
‘Goddess, ‘ I replied, ‘you know my wound.’ She laughed,
And the sky immediately cleared in her direction.

The opening to Ovid's Fasti IV (translated by A S Kline, 2004: his whole version of the poem is well worth checking out).  My favourite, and my most applicable, invocation of the Muse.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Listening to Julian Cope's 'Trampolene' (1987) today I found myself wondering about the proliferation of 1980s pop songs that are about sex, but address the subject only euphemistically -- see also: Madonna's 'Into the Groove' (1985), Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' (1986). As if there was an overlap from an age in which sex could only be sung about if veiled in euphemism (hence, for example, 'rock and roll') and today, when if people want to sing about sex they just sing about sex. Conceivably George Michael's 'I Want Your Sex' (1987) was the first big chart smash to do the latter.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Is Anyone There?

Excellent stuff: all sorts of essays on all sorts of things. There are a few bum notes. A couple of prediction essays get, as Asimov concedes at the beginning of them that they will, lots of things wrong: by 1990 we will all be living in huge underground structures ('people already work in beehives, surrounded at all times by artificial light and conditioned air. They would scarcely know the difference if they were suddenly transported underground', 221) have jetpacks ('small motors mounted on the back will lift a man clear of the ground', 226) and so on. That essay was written in 1965; an earlier piece (1964) looks further ahead, to 'The World's Fair of 2014' which also says that we'll all be living underground and having a whale of a time: 'rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two foot level, held up by jets of compressed air, neatly and automatically avoiding each other.' [229]

One odd crotchet: humanoid robots must NOT be built in the shape of women!
Admittedly, the workings inside a robot are comparatively bulky, so the robot must be large. But if it were built in the male form, the necessary size would not be too remarkable. In the female form it becomes ungainly and attracts undesirable attention. Even with the taller-than-usual girl there remains insufficient room for all the necessary internal equipment. [Chapter 35, 'How Not To Build A Robot']
If you say so, Isaac.

Monday, 24 September 2012


Chatting with my friend Bob about Superman's Jewishness (invented by Jewish writers; destroyed planet and legacy; scmiel disguise; sense of election; American and yet not America, and so on). The crucial question nowadays, it seems to me, is The Alan Moore Reducto Ad Absurdam: ‘if you had godlike powers would you REALLY go round (in effect) rescuing cats from trees & chatting up Lois Lane? The Jewish line here might be: ‘if I were a God I would use my powers to help MY chosen people’ (one reason why Red Son was so disappointing was to do with this). But one of the interesting things about Christian God, as Christ, was that he did indeed spend his time rescuing cats from trees & chatting up Lois Lane -- or arranging the bread supply to a crowd of people and hanging out with Mary Magdelene. That's one of the strong lines of force of the Christian revelation: that God’s really not interested in kings, wars & glory: he’s interested in the trivia of life.  I mean 'trivia' here in a nonderogatory sense: the ordinary day-to-day, the mundanity.  That's where the important stuff happens.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Gate to Women's Country

Wikipedia suggests that this is the cover to the Italian translation of Sheri Tepper's 1988 novel The Gate to Women's Country. The title, in English, means 'Postwar Chronicles', which applies to Tepper's powerful book only in the most oblique manner; and the artwork (by Oscar Chichoni) is not of any scene in the novel. There is a moment, late in the narrative, when the main character has a contraceptive implant cut out, but from her arm, not her back, and with a regular knife, not a weird swastika-shaped scalpel torture device.  It is, all in all, really not a pleasant image: a queasy blend of sexual lubriciousness and petty male-on-female sadism-domination.  I was prepared to chalk this up to a Wikipedia mistake; but a quick trip to the website disabuses me -- this is indeed the Italian translation of the novel. Ugh.


Unthinking people sometimes assert that 'love' and 'hate' are opposites. They're not, of course; a better opposition would be between 'love' on the one hand and indifference on the other.  Love and hate, both modes of emotional intensity, have a worrying amount in common.  Nevertheless it would be insane to say they are synonyms. Love puts the other above you, even if it blots out everyone in the world who is not you and I.  Hate puts the other below you.  It is a false idiom to say we fall in love, although falling is a very expressive and exact way of talking about the way hatred possesses us.  We don't fall in love; we rise into it.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Capital Punishment She's Last Year's Model.

You call her Natasha but she looks like Elsie.  I used to oppose capital punishment on, as it were, moral-absolute grounds: if it is wrong for a murderer to take a life it's wrong for the state to take a life; guilt can never be certain; killing criminals is a violent response to crime which in turn inculcates a broader culture of violence, and so on.  Now I'm not so sure about the moral absolutism.  Some people probably don't deserve to carry on living, after certain actions, I suppose.  But I still oppose capital punishment as forcefully as ever I did, and for one main reason.  What's odd is that I don't often see this reason aired in debates on the subject.  The incertitude of criminal convictions, and the inhumanity of state-sanctioned murder, are still powerful arguments, I think.  But the ethical focus (it seems to me) is less to do with the accused.  It is the accused's family, friends, lover/wife, children.  They have done nothing -- they are innocent -- and nevertheless the state sets out deliberately to damage them: to bereave and emotionally hurt them.  Proponents of the death penalty might say that this is an unavoidable part of the process (which is surely all the more reason to oppose the process); that it's the murderer's fault his family and loved ones are bereaved (but the state has alternatives to killing criminals); that incarcerating the murderer will also to cause family and friends distress.  This last is true, obviously; but if your husband is in prison you can still see him. If your husband is dead, you cannot.

This leads to the story idea: in an ethical future, capital punishment must, by law, involve (a) the humane termination of the guilty party's life, and (b) the Eternal-Sunshine-of-the-Spotless-Mind-esque eradication of all memory of the guilty party from the minds and memories of his nearest and dearest.  There are several dramatic possibilities in this premise, I think.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

New product

You invent a new product, and sell it out of a shiny apple-store-style emporium.  Trendy!  Now the naturre of this product is that once a customer buys one, s/he instantly loses the ability to make rational judgments about what is best for him/herself; also becoming disinhibited, happier, stupider and more suggestible.  It won't take much for you to sell him/her a great many more of your products.

Ladies and gentlemen: the pub.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Some thoughts on the BBC/HBO/VRT "Parade's End"

I'm enjoying it, mostly. It lacks the flavour of the novels (as often diffuse and splurgy as they are piercing and striking), but it gets most of the key incidents in and Stoppard has lifted a fair quantity of actual dialogue straight from Ford.  If the WW1 scenes have something of the feel of Blackadder Goes Forth that's not necessarily Stoppard's fault. There's something of that in the original. And Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall both give excellent performances, although the Bagpuss voice Cumberbatch adopts for Tietjens is a little groany-moany for my taste.

The ways in which the adaptation differs from the original novels interest me, though.  I can see that a certain amount of compression and elision is necessary when translating a book into a televisual or filmic idiom; but some of the changes seem odd.  In Ford's novels, for instance, Christopher Tietjens is fat (he's often compared to a filled sack).  Cumberbatch is not fat.  Tietjens' older brother Mark is more of a dunderhead in the novels; perhaps Rupert Everett didn't fancy playing him that way.  But in the novel Mark is the oldest of four (Christopher the youngest) and the two middle brothers are killed in the war.  Cutting them entirely from the adaptation perhaps sacrifices the emotional force of Chris's decision to enlist to the virtues of streamlining the story.  Tietjens senior commits suicide, believing that his youngest son has gone to the devil -- fathered a child on the daughter of his friend and so on.  In Stoppard's screenplay he thinks this because Mark sits down with him and tells him, which (a) paints Mark in a rather brutal light, and (b) makes his subsequent carefree behaviour seem extraordinarily heartless and uncaring.  In Ford's novel it's another character (I can't remember his name) who tells Tietjens Senior the rumours about his son.  Again, not sure why Stoppard made that change.

The novel also includes a good deal of Chris's internal life, from which we discover that he's a lot more hesitant, and conflicted, about the moral stands to duty he makes. Without them his character comes over more marionetteish.  And in the long -- improbably long, but there you go -- conversation he has with General Campion on the western front (at the end of No More Parades, I think) Tietjens says something about how the key to his character is that he was a public schoolboy who actually believed all the stuff they told him at school, and who hasn't properly grown up.  I'm not sure why Stoppard cut that bit out, unless it's because it would tend to diminish Tietjen's principled stand in our modern eyes.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Sang faire, savoir froid

Slightly puzzling that two key 'English' national-character-virtues (we can put that hyphenated lump in inverted commas too, if you like) are referred to with French phrases: sang froid; savoir faire.  As if even the English language has too much sang froid, and too much savoir faire, to include English phrases for these things.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Tygger

Tigger Tigger burning bright
In the forests of the night
The hands of what immortal things
Dare frame thy top of rubber and bottom of springs?

In what distant disney skies
Peels the orange of thine eyes?
Made from what striped things are ye?
Is your wonder A.D.D.?

When the stars sat down to feast
On Toy Story, Beauty-Beast:
Was Tigger Movie such a one?
Did he who made Wall-E make thee bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy fun-fun-fun-fun-fun?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Gaggage 7: the Return of Gaggage

To quote the imperishable John Peel: I don't know why I bother.

E O Wilson is an interesting thinker, but his work on farming isn’t as insightful as that of his rival, E I E I O Wilson.

My horse is called Rumplestiltskin. You heard me: I’ve been through the desert on a horse with gnome name.

Samuel Johnson was a great critic; but not as great as his father, Samuel John.

Film idea: Taken That: “I will hunt you down. I will find you. And I will sing a duet with Lulu at you.”

Slogan for my ‘Dragons Den’ product “Alumurphinium”: ‘Foil Again. Foil Better.’

The Nile: starts in the Mountains of the Moon, ends in the Med. Concerning which I can confirm: no man is a Nile end.

Your teeth! Hah -- IN YOUR FACE!

Waiting for a call from the BBC Commissioning Dept about my proposed ‘immigration/former Yugoslavia’ sitcom: Are You Being Serbed? They've already passed on Only Fools And Herzogovenians, Dad’s Armenian and Balkanadder -- but I have high hopes for this one

Just read an article that at one point mentioned 'Fried rich Nietzsche'. Like a sort of philosophical deep-fried Mars Bar.

I like the look of this ‘Rihanna’, but I’m curious as to what Hanna looked like before this reboot.

Coldplay are re-releasing their Kierkegaardian smash, 'Either/Orl Yellow'

A jug for pouring milk? In a hellish future dystopia? JUG DREDD? I AM THE POUR!!

Due to an unfortunate typo, the Titanic musicians actually played ‘Abide With Emu’.

Nobody has signed my petition to have air conditioners renamed ‘Atmospheric Subjunctivizers’. Seriously, not one signature.

The pantomime actor came to the front of the stage & asked: ‘what sort of deer should I be?’ And as one we all replied ‘be a HIND, you!’

There’s no ‘I’ in team. Or in ‘left side of pirate’s face’ either.

My New York all-female philosophical sit-com: “Sex And Haeccity”?

Act is if your action should be universalised as a poem about a cat by a bad Scottish poet. This is the Cat-McGonnagal Imperative.

Here's a photograph of me in a cornfield, hesitating. That's me in the corn. Er ...

Gü’s New Super-Indulgent Penguin-Flavoured Chocolate pudding … The Pingü.

A ‘One Does Not Simply Walk’ twitter gag walks into a bar. In Mordor.

Demonstrative pronoun and participle introducing a restrictive relative clause? That.

Do you smell of mice? Then sing ‘Mice Aroma’ to the famous The Knack tune.

As the plain-clothes policeman said: ‘I’m arresting you in denim of the law.

Is that part a multi-volume dictionary in your pocket, or are you just PLEASED to SEAMY?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Story titles

Either already written (a while ago) or half-written (and maybe never to be completed):

HPMS Ouranus

A Dictionary of Heresies


The Incredible Shrinking Nam

The 144,000

Gerusalem Liberace

The Sixth Star

The Murder of the Mona Lisa

The John Foster Dolls

Enough? -- or Too Much!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Dredd (dir. Pete Travis, 2012): review

Somebody said to somebody: 'I know: let's make a film out of this celebrated Moebius image!':

'What, like Blade Runner?' 'No, I don't mean a Blade Runner remake. I mean a straight Judge Dredd movie, but via this image of the falling man.'  'OK.'

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Dan started at school this week.  First week: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 9am until 12 noon.  Second week and thereafter, 9am until 3pm.  That means that my working day shrinks to (from when I get back from dropping Dan to when I have to head out the door to pick him up again) 9:15 - 11:45.  If I'm nippy.  Two and a half hours.  Not easy to get much done in that slot.  And that's with a job, writing, where I can work from home and structure my own time.  Very few jobs are like that.

I went through this with Lily (now 10), but once again I'm struck by this basic fact: the school system in the UK is set-up around the tacit understanding that children have two parents, one of whom works whilst the other stays home.  Since that hasn't actually been the case for a long time, this has necessitated the growth of a more-or-less rickety structure of add-ons, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, unofficial swaps with other parents, use of grandparents (not available to us, alas), paid child-minders, drivers to move minivans of kids from school to community hall or somewhere else and so on, all accreted around the basic school day.  Because almost nobody is now in that 1950s situation of being able to do nothing else but take kids to school, pick kids up from school, look after kids during inset days etc etc.  It's boggling, really: expensive, inefficient and a huge practical drag upon the individual worker's efficiency and productivity, to say nothing of their general quality of life. [An example: a friend of mine has had to take some of her annual holiday to cover this week; from next week she's paying an ex-nursery nurse to pick her kid up -- the woman in question has taken maternity leave from the nursery, which is how she's free to do it -- but that will only happen until November and the due date, when my friend will have to put something else in place, or more likely a couple of different things.] Why isn't something done about it?  Cost, of course.  Inertia, I suppose.  People who have kids have one child, or two children, by and large; which limits the (massive!) inconvenience of it to a decade or so in the--usually--middle of a career, until the kid is old enough to schlep his/herself about.  But for that decade it's a crippling restriction on the individual's rights to work.  I would like to see what a school system looked like if designed from the ground up on the understanding that children come from families in which both parents need to work 5 days a week, 8:30-5:30.  It wouldn't look like what we currently have, I think.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Trafalgar Square Poem

The fountain throws up a white haystack of spray;
The strong wind is carrying the sun away;
Night is a geyser from yon blackheath hole;
Darkness that bubblewraps Nelson's stone pole.

Safe until morning
Safe until day
Safe from the east-end
To the west way.

Traffic in sunlight and traffic by neon;
Lion-names are: dumber and dumbest and leon;
The knife b'long Mac, the mainframe's just peasy
But nothing about this set-square is too easy.

Safe until morning
Safe until day
Safe from the east-end
To the west way.

Metropolis stonelands are thridded by rail:
Here living is EPIC and death EPIC FAIL--
The river keeps moving but won't move away
Reluctantly night baton-passes to day.

Safe until morning
Safe until day
Safe from the east-end
To the west way.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Man Booker Prize: the Shortlist

This is a mere follow-up to this post, on the Man Booker longlist; tantamount to a place-holder, but here for reasons of completeness.  I don't see myself blogging any more on this topic, in part because merely thinking about the prize fills me with a gaping sense of the futility of existence and the doleful void at the heart of things.

This is what I said at the beginning of the month:
Only Mantel absolutely deserves to be on the shortlist; although I'd be happy enough to see Barker, Beauman and Moore go through. Of the rest some are interesting more-or-less failures, some are pretty bad, and some are so bad (Frayn, Levy, I'm looking at you) as to make the reader slap his/her forehead in disbelief, Wallace-and-Gromit-style, with his/her meaty plasticine hand.
I added: 'This is the shortlist I expect to see from yon farrago of titles: Barker; Brink; Joyce; Moore; Self; Mantel.'

Today the Man Booker shortlist was announced: Tan Twan Eng; Deborah Levy; Hilary Mantel; Alison Moore; Will Self; Jeet Thayil.  50% strike-rate for me, and a poor shortlist for everybody else.  Mantel's and Moore's are good novels; the other four are all over-written, in various ways (viz: Eng, overpurpled; Levy, pseud's-corner pretentious and often actively bad;  Self, clogged and tiresome and let-me-show-off-my-cleverness-by-flinging-faeces-at-you; Thayil, just tiresome and self-consciously over-poeticised).  It suggests that the judges cannot tell the difference between good writing and over-writing.  Which is to say, they have no taste.  Barker and Beauman, in particular, have good reason to feel aggrieved.

That said, I find, looking back, that when I add-up the total amount of shit I give, said total turns out to be zero. I'm a man. These are some books. Man. Book. Blah. Prize.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Kebabded House

Crowded House's 'Fall At Your Feet' is a lovely song. Fair dos. But that said, I challenge you to listen to the lines:
And whenever I fall at your feet
You let your tears rain down on me
Whenever I touch your slow turning pain
...without thinking of a giant kebab turning slowly in front of its burning-hot elements in the window of a kebab shop.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Nonsense, this is

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Not very coherent, Master Philosopher. Ah but wait a minute could it be that Yoda is actually channelling, of all people, David Hume? This, from A Treatise of Human Nature (1739): 'Grief and disappointment give rise to anger, anger to envy, envy to malice, and malice to grief again, until the whole circle be completed.'

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Inside every book is another book.  And inside that is another book.  It stops there though; that's as far as it goes.

Friday, 7 September 2012


There's a partial truth in Niccolò Machiavelli's famous statement (it's from chapter 14 of Il Principe): 'Among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised.' He might have added: '... to your face'; for the armed man is just as much despised behind his back. Indeed, we might think, rather more so. Machiavelli's book as a positively mafiosi insistence on 'respect' as the bedrock of princely power -- chapter 19 is even called "That one should avoid being despised and hated". But the problem is: a man has a gun to gain respect; but it is not he who is respected, it is his gun. Or to put it another way, Machiavelli's words only really strike home when we have a suitably non-gun understanding of what it means for a political leader to be armed.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Duty versus pleasure

Duty has this advantage over pleasure: that whilst doing one's duty is often a pleasure in its own right, that moment when indulging in one's favourite pleasure becomes a duty is the moment the pleasure dies.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Super-Obvious Observations About Pop Music #1

I have been moved more by pop songs with mediocre lyrics than by some of the finest lyric poetry ever written. But, of course: pop songs have music. The lyrics of songs have to work less hard to move us, because they stand on the shoulders of the music. Like, durr.

Except, except: the music works its affective magic in simple, broad-stroke ways; where a perfectly judged lyric by Yeats or Keats or the Beats can achieve finer, more specific, more spine-chilly effects.  Indeed, I wonder if pop lyrics that are over complicated can undermine their own impact?  Is 'Almost Blue' a more effecting song than 'Shipbuilding', and is it so because it's simpler?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Spinkertramp Floyd

Listening to Supertramp on the cycle into work this morning. Reputation's a puzzling thing, isn't it? So: Waters-era Floyd produced an album about the miseries of school and its effects on later life (The Wall, 1979); and Supertramp produced an album about the miseries of school and its effects on later life (Crime of the Century, 1974). Floyd went on to produce an album about the cold war (The Final Cut, 1983), and Supertramp went on in their career to produce an album about the cold war (Brother Where You Bound?, 1985). The case could be made that these albums are all of a similar calibre; and both groups, in their day, were transatlantic super-hitters. Yet today the Floyd remain a huge name, and the 'Tramp are all but forgotten. Puzzling.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Atheist Theism

For the true believer, God is always a mysterious supplement, present in life but never completely known, always in essence just beyond the ability of the mind to grasp. But for a true atheist this is even more profoundly true: the atheist embraces the mysterious Otherness of God much more wholeheartedly than the believer does. To the point, indeed, of Othering God from existence itself. In this, as in other, ways the atheist is more devout than the theist.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Forget history?

Marx said it in various ways, but Santayana said it most pithily:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Reading Balzac's La Peau de Chagrin (1831), I came across this sentiment, which reads almost as the ur-text against which Santayana is rebelling. Balzac attributes it to Louis XVIII, though I can't track down the original:
Parmi ces convives, cinq avaient de l’avenir, une dizaine devait obtenir quelque gloire viagère; quant aux autres, ils pouvaient comme toutes les médiocrités se dire le fameux mensonge de Louis XVIII: Union et oubli.
'Let us come together and forget the past' ... the motto of 'toutes les médiocrités'!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Man Booker Prize, 2012: the Longlist

And bang! -- went August. The order, here, is the order in which I read the books, and has no other special significance; although it so happened the first book I read also turned out to be the best of the lot. Anyway:

Booker Longlist 2012 1: Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies

Booker Longlist 2012, 2: Michael Frayn, Skios

Booker Longlist 2012, 3: Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists

Booker Longlist 2012, 4: Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Booker Longlist 2012, 5: Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis

Booker Longlist 2012, 6: Sam Thompson, Communion Town: a City in Ten Chapters

Booker Longlist 2012, 7: André Brink, Philida

Booker Longlist 2012, 8: Will Self, Umbrella

Booker Longlist 2012, 9: Alison Moore, The Lighthouse

Booker Longlist 2012, 10: Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident

Booker Longlist 2012, 11: Deborah Levy, Swimming Home

Booker Longlist 2012, 12: Nicola Barker, The Yips

So, briefly (gotta be somewhere ... you know how it is) some overall thoughts. Well, it seems to me a pretty weak longlist. Of this twelve, only Mantel absolutely deserves to be here; although I'd be happy enough to see Barker, Beauman and Moore go through to shortlist. Of the rest some are interesting more-or-less failures, some are pretty bad, and some are so bad (Frayn, Levy, I'm looking at you) as to make the reader slap his/her forehead in disbelief, Wallace-and-Gromit-style, with his/her meaty plasticine hand.

This is the shortlist I expect to see from yon farrago of titles: Barker; Brink; Joyce; Moore; Self; Mantel. The first, though slack, feels unlike anything else and has the proper 21st-century tang; the second is worthy and dull but the judges will think 'Brink surely deserves a nod; he's 111 years old and has subsisted too long in the shadow of Coetzee, and he's written several score novels all making the case that slavery and racism are bad'; the third is sentimental and easy to read, and the judges will put it forward to balance out the density and difficulty of some of their other choices; the fourth is actually a pretty good novel; the stodgy fifth is not a pretty good novel (not pretty at all) but it flatters the judges into thinking they're connoisseurs of complex Modernist art; the sixth will go on to win the prize.

Oh, but what might have been! Where is John Lanchester's Capital? Where's Zadie Smith's NW? Adam Thorpe's Flight? Where oh where is M John Harrison's extraordinary Empty Space? Indeed (only Beauman, and he only glancingly, escapes the severity of my Jeremiah-tone here) why is there no SFF at all on this longlist? What about Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker? Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts? M D Lachan's Lord of Slaughter? These novels are all better than at least half of the longlist, and some of them are better than all-but-one. If you see what I mean.