Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Row over Vince Vaughn's 'gay insult' in Ron Howard film


Vince Vaughn
 Actor Vince Vaughn's use of the word 'gay' as an insult in the new Ron Howard movie, The Dilemma, has sparked a row. Photograph: Danny Moloshok/AP


Row over Vince Vaughn's 'gay insult' in Ron Howard film

Offending scene cut from online versions of trailer for The Dilemma after gay pressure group protests
Ben Child
Wed 13 Oct 2010
The US release of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard's new comedy, The Dilemma, has been overshadowed by a row over a scene in which star Vince Vaughn uses the word "gay" as an insult.
CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper first raised the issue on his TV show, Anderson Cooper 360°, after viewing a trailer for the movie which features the scene. Pressure group the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) followed up on Monday by urging its supporters to contact studio Universal and demand that the "offensive" promo be removed from cinemas.
The offending scene, which has now been cut from online versions of the trailer, sees Vaughn in a boardroom delivering a presentation about electric cars. He tells his colleagues: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."
GLAAD itself has also come in for criticism over its handling of the affair, with some suggesting that the body moved too slowly to take Universal to task and is too close to the media organisations it was set up to monitor.
The Dilemma sees Vaughn as a man who is unsure if he should tell his best friend and business partner (Kevin James) that his wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him. It is due to arrive in cinemas in the US in January.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Nemesis by Philip Roth / Review by Tim Martin



Nemesis by Philip Roth: review

The late flowering of the American novelist Philip Roth’s work is one of the best surprises in modern literature. Tim Martin examines his 31st book, Nemesis, in which he strips back his rhetoric and flirts with his own demise


Readers of Philip Roth have grown used to taking little at face value, particularly if it relates to Philip Roth: this last standing titan of the American novel has a long track record of playing with the truth. The Facts (1988), purportedly “a novelist’s autobiography”, was interspersed with splenetic hijacks from the author’s favourite alter ego, the fictional writer Nathan Zuckerman. Operation Shylock (1993) bore the subtitle “a Confession” and the postscript “This confession is false”, while The Counterlife (1986) was a novel whose five main parts each contradicted the others. Indeed, the author has been famously quoted as saying that “Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life, is my life.”

So it’s hard to know what to make of two striking bits of information in Nemesis, Roth’s 31st book, which are left — deliberately? carelessly? – lying around on the paratextual sidelines. The first, given the gloomy, death-haunted tone of the recent fiction, strikes a distantly worrying note: it comes in a line at the end of the author bio, which for some years now has justly boasted that Roth is “the only living novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America”. This most recent crop of British editions, however, has acquired a biographical postscript declaring that “The last of nine volumes is scheduled for publication in 2013.”
Roth is now 77, and his late flowering of work has been one of the best surprises in modern American literature: at least four of the 12 books he published after turning 60 in 1993 are commonly hailed as among his finest, and for the past five years he has published a book each autumn, a rate of productivity that puts writers half his age to shame. Can he really be announcing his retirement in a throwaway sentence in his blurb? Or is this talent for misdirection — what Roth calls his “serious mischief” — finding its way out of the novels and on to the endpapers as well?
Amid such confusion the reader enters the new book, and almost instantly encounters another quiet revelation. Roth’s fictions have frequently availed themselves of recurring characters, each more or less a surrogate for their irrepressibly tormented and loquacious author, and the bibliography inside each new work naturally groups them under the name of their protagonists — the Zuckerman books, the Kepesh books, the Roth books and so on. With Nemesis, though, there appears a new category. EverymanIndignation and The Humbling, three of the terse novellas that Roth has published since 2006, are now filed, along with this year’s offering, under “Nemeses: Short Novels”.
At first this looks merely like an odd piece of legacy-management, a late attempt to impose cohesion on four books that have been more divisively received than almost anything else in the author’s career. John Banville hailed Indignation, for example, as a late masterpiece; Christopher Hitchens said it showed an author “repeatedly fouling his own nest”; and critics of the others divided along roughly similar lines. None of the four books shares a protagonist, or even a cast member. Only two of them take place in Newark, Roth’s birthplace, which forms the spiritual and geographical focus for many of his novels. And the situations they explore bear no instantly striking similarities: Everyman is a dark and sardonic post-mortem on the life of an advertising executive, while Indignation retells the downfall of a college student in small-town America during the Korean War. Last year’s The Humbling infamously followed a blocked actor as he seduces a lesbian half his age before committing suicide, while Nemesis, Roth’s new novel, is about a PE teacher who lives through a polio epidemic in New Jersey in the Forties.




But with the release of Nemesis — the last of the Nemeses, as we may yet learn to call them — a measure of retroactive cohesion begins to operate. The new book tells the story of Bucky Cantor, a fit young specimen of American manhood who works as a playground supervisor in the Weequahic area of New Jersey, in the summer of 1944. The Allies are on their way through Italy, but Cantor’s poor eyesight makes him unfit for service: so he stays in America, stalked by a powerful sense of shame that he submerges in teaching the neighbourhood children “never to allow themselves to be pushed around or, just because they knew how to use their brains, to be defamed as Jewish weaklings and sissies”.
Neither strength nor compassion, however, are any use against poliomyelitis, a disease that in 1944 was still a good six years away from an etiology or cure. As children begin to die off one by one and the Jewish community draws in on itself in grief, then fear, then hysteria, the basic props of Cantor’s existence begin to fall away. Raging against God, “cold-blooded murderer of children,” he flees town for a job at a summer camp with his girlfriend, only to find his conscience tormenting him for running away. As the epidemic develops, Cantor finds himself pinned between desire and duty, and — since this is late Roth, after all — being dragged, grimly and inexorably, under life’s steamroller.
Like every Roth novel in the past five years, Nemesis is told in a narrative voice that sometimes borders on the pallid. The unmistakable Roth delivery — that inimitably juicy, excoriating, grandstanding blend of the demotic and the literary that peaks in ranting splendour in the best of his long novels — is here reduced to a narrative voice that seems to flirt with banality. Unless we’re to assume that Roth has simply suffered literary collapse, an allegation that the striking scenic form in these late novellas in no way bears out, he must be up to something. In Exit Ghost, the novel from 2007 in which he finally dismissed his long-standing alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, he gave Zuckerman’s mentor, the writer Lonoff, a dying speech that seemed to hint at a new position on writing: “The end is so immense, it is its own poetry. It requires little rhetoric. Just state it plainly.”
This is, of course, the kind of proposition that protagonists like Mickey Sabbath, the grandiloquent declining satyr of Sabbath’s Theater, would have laughed out of the room. Sabbath spends the entire book (one of Roth’s very greatest) resolving to do away with himself, only prevented from doing so in the book’s famous last line because “Everything he hated was here.” Such earlier protagonists approached the great immutables of sex, God and death with biting anger and grandiose rhetoric: this was stuff they took personally.
But the fight has gone out of Roth’s late protagonists. There’s a terrible moment in Exit Ghost when Roth’s veteran surrogate Zuckerman, now neutered, incontinent and humiliated, suffers the most embarrassing kind of writerly senior moment: he blanks on a famous quotation. The passage he fails to remember is the one in T S Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, in which the speaker meets a “compound ghost” that pitilessly discloses to him what to expect as he grows older. “Beyond that I cannot go,” Zuckerman tells himself. “A frightful prophecy follows that I don’t remember. I’ll look it up when I get home.” He never has the nerve to do so, but any reader who does will find the passage that seems to lie behind these late books: get ready, the ghost announces, for

the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to
amuse.
And last, the rending pain of
re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and
been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and
the awareness
Of things ill done and done to
others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise
of virtue.

If Roth’s mid-period novels are masterpieces of sarcastic choler, then the prevailing humour in this late quartet is black bile. In two of them, the protagonist is dead before the book begins: another ends in bathos with a successful suicide attempt, as though in rebuke to the author who created Mickey Sabbath. Even the writing comes to seem deliberately clumsy, as though the author, in full retreat from trickery, has forsworn his arsenal to cede the stage to the banality of disappointment, age and death. The cumulative mass of sorrow and dread has undeniable blunt force, but it’s hard not to be thankful that Roth considers his experiment in nemesis to be at an end. These elusive excursions into literary self-cancellation would make a bitter farewell to writing.
* Tim Martin is a journalist who lives in Paris
Nemesis
by Philip Roth
304pp, Jonathan Cape





Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nelly Kaprielian / A Week in Culture















A Week in Culture: Nelly Kaprielian, Critic

September 15, 2010 | by Nelly Kaprielian

DAY ONE

10:00 A.M. How can you tell when a novel is great? When, even on a second reading, you keep discovering new things, you keep being amazed, impressed, amused, when the text keeps making you think about the world and your own life. That's how it is with Michel Houellebecq's new novel, La Carte et le Territoire. I just finished rereading it this morning in preparation for my interview with him tonight. The book comes out September 8 and already—ever since August 20—the press has been full of raves.
Every Houellebecq novel is an event. The only real phenomenon in French letters, and the only French author known abroad, Houellebecq has certainly paid a price: to be idolized like a rock star, yes, but also hated, scorned, dragged through the mud by his idolators. Since The Elementary Particles came out in 1998, Les Inrockuptibles has stood by Houellebecq, defending him against the unfounded attacks that greeted one of his best books, The Possibility of an Island, in 2005. Out of loyalty, Houellebecq has granted us the first in-depth interview about the book, and the only long interview in a serious weekly. Needless to say, such loyalty is rare in the literary world. Ironically, thanks to the new book, Houellebecq finds himself lionized yet again by the press. Whenever a book of his appears, the media’s reaction tells you as much about them as about the book itself.
11:00 A.M. It hasn’t got any sex in it, no swingers’ clubs, no Thai whores. The novel, which is less angry and less polemical than his previous work, will be read on its own terms, simply as a great book: a total novel, a metaphysical labyrinth of dizzying complexity, a vision of the world that we once knew and have lost to globalization. No, it isn’t exactly funny. And yet Houellebecq manages to combine his despair with an irony that draws you helplessly in. It strikes me that this is why I do my job—why all critics do—for the intense feeling, for the adrenaline rush, of discovering a work of genius. If it wasn’t eleven in the morning, I’d pour myself a shot of vodka.
12:00 P.M.. At the office, in Bastille. I have other people’s reviews to edit, headlines to write (trying to be witty, to think up puns … a nightmare), etc. But first I can’t resist going straight to the editor of the TV section and begging him—on bended knees, with clasped and trembling hands—to let me borrow season three of Mad Men. That’s one advantage of working for a culture journal. You can get all 13 episodes at once, and watch five in one night. Ecstasy.
5:40 P.M. Houellebecq’s novel features a misanthropic alcoholic named Michel Houellebecq, who says at one point: “You know, it’s the journalists who’ve given me the reputation of a drunk: what’s odd is that none of them ever realized that, if I drink a lot in their presence, it’s only so I can stand them.”
I pick up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
6:07 P.M. Houellebecq is … Houellebecquian. The Ritz? The Meurice? The Plaza? No. While in Paris he stays at a completely crummy chain hotel—in the 13th Arrondissement, no less, the same neighborhood where his main character, the artist Jed Martin, lives. The room is depressing enough to make you want to jump out the window. Pajamas balled up on the unmade bed, electric toothbrush recharging on the table. The usual slow delivery, the usual long silence before every sentence, the usual cigarette in the corner of his mouth. And yet he has changed: he’s thinner, his face is more deeply lined, his eyes seem washed out, he seems exhausted. It worries me. “Thank you for the champagne, but I already picked up a bottle. We’ll drink them both.” And so we do.
10:30 P.M. Michel orders a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape at the Moroccan restaurant where he has taken me to dinner.
11:35 P.M. He has fallen fast asleep on the table. What to do? The kind waitress hails a taxi, I shake Michel by the shoulders to wake him up, help him to his feet and put him in the car. “Where are we?” he asks, still half asleep. In the taxi he finally recognizes the 13th Arrondissement and seems reassured. I tell him that the most worrying thing, for me, is that I seem able to hold my liquor better than … Michel Houellebecq himself. “Yes, but you have practice, what with all those literary cocktail parties they make you attend.” All is well: he has got back his sense of humor.
11:55 P.M. In front of his hotel we smoke a few more cigarettes while the taxi waits to take me home. “Alcohol, you know, is a thing of my youth. I don’t drink the way I used to. I’m old now, and I don’t think I have much longer to go. La Carte et le Territoire may be my last book … “ Touching, moving, sincere, brilliant, funny, utterly down-to-earth … An interview with Michel Houellebecq is not like an interview with anybody else. No doubt about it, I love the guy.

DAY TWO

9:30 A.M. Not even a hangover! I call my head editor, who is dying to know how things went with Michel H. He’s thrilled when I told him the whole story: “Write all of that in your article, starting in the taxi on the way there.” He's right, naturally, only I hate articles that start with some cut-rate gonzo cliché about being in the taxi before an interview. Above all, I hate the kind of journalism that reduces a great writer to his biography for the sake of a profile. I recently read an article in a British paper about Bret Easton Ellis’s new book—and all it talked about was his bad relationship with his father. (While we’re at it, what about his dog?)
10:30 A.M. Starting to write my article about another great book: Summertime, by J. M. Coetzee. A fictional autobiography told by five narrators (mostly women) who mattered in Coetzee’s life (he is dead when the book begins). To hear the women tell it, he’s cold, shy, repressed, a bad lover, and they didn’t fall in love with him. He’s ridiculous and pathetic. Coetzee dwells on the distance between life and literature, the difference between the writer as his readers imagine him and as he, disappointingly, is. I have interviewed billions of writers. I’ve dated some. And of course Coetzee’s point amuses me deeply. He’s so right!
12:00 P.M. There is a funny similarity between Coetzee’s and Houellebecq’s books. Each writes about himself, presenting himself as pathetic—and, sooner or later, as dead. Each kills himself through fiction. Houellebecq describes himself as lonely, depressed, dirty, drunk all the time, eating junk food, spending his days watching cartoons on TV. Yesterday he was telling me that he took an intense masochistic pleasure in writing about himself that way. Also, he has turned up as a character in other people’s novels, and he likes showing all of these writers who used him that they could have done a better job. Indeed!
In his own way, Coetzee is making it impossible to write a biography after his death. No one, in speaking of those two, can do worse than they have done. Each novel is a sort of master class.
2:30 P.M. At the office. Not much going on, to tell the truth. Can’t wait to go home and watch Mad Men.
7:30 P.M. Oh, no ! I forgot I have a dinner party to go to. So much for Mad Men. Fortunately, Élodie, who works for a publishing house, lives just up the street. There are two other book critics there. Each manages the culture or book section of a weekly magazine. Each of us has brought someone from outside the business, so we do our best not to talk about literature. But it’s like asking junkies not to talk about drugs. After lots of champagne (in France, a good book critic is a critic who drinks, I wouldn’t trust a sober one…), we crack. “What did you think of X?” “Did you read Y?” blah blah blah. I pity our friends, who seem to be standing on the sidelines of a game whose rules nobody’s bothered to explain.
3:20 A.M. I notice my watch on the floor—what is my watch doing on the floor? I never, ever lose that watch. Or almost never. Pick it up and realize it’s after three. Standing up to leave, I also realize we’re all drunk.

DAY THREE

9:00 A.M. Hungover. And wouldn't you know it, this morning I have to go on national TV (and not just national: France 24 is broadcast in other countries too) to talk about that typically French phenomenon known as the "rentrée littéraire." Every year, at the end of August, French publishers bring out about 700 books, all at once, hoping for a shot at one of the literary prizes that get awarded in October and November—most famously (and always most controversially) the Prix Goncourt.
10:45 A.M. I begged the makeup woman to camouflage my Elephant Man eyes, whatever it took. Now I have the eyes of an Elephant Man who tried really hard to look pretty.
11:00 A.M. Why are the offices of a TV station always spacious, neat, futuristic, beautiful--when the offices of a print journal are always a pigsty? The program starts. The interviewer asks the ritual question, the same one they asked last year and will ask again a year from now: "Seven hundred books—isn't that too many?"
It's funny, in June or July, while I'm trying to select the best novels for our special rentrée issue, I hate that figure, 700. I spend every night all summer reading while normal people are out on some café terrace having fun. But by late August, when it's all over, and when they ask me the question, I always answer, "Would you prefer to live in a country that published only three books a year?"
Choice is freedom. And if some of the books don't get read, too bad. A good book will always find readers.
11:30 A.M. The preordained question about the new Michel Houllebecq: "Everyone says it's a masterpiece. True or false?" No question about it, he's the star of the rentrée.
Forgive me. How can I help writing about him every day?
1:00 P.M. Back to work. Meetings, tension, soul-searching. All par for the course, since the magazine is being completely redesigned and relaunched on September 15. I'm happy because we managed to keep our book section long, with real reviews and not just advertorial capsules. Nowadays you can't take a thing like that for granted.
8:30 P.M. Mad Men and herbal tea. Everyone has a theory about Mad Men. Mine is that our era has reduced women to two choices about their bodies—puritanical guilt (the burka, the chador, anorexia) and pornography (fake boobs, fake blonds, muscles, tramp stamps, etc.)—and we're nostalgic for a time when a woman could dare to have a woman's body, when a woman could be comfortable with her sensuality, her breasts, her dress size, her legs. The dresses on Mad Men show everything, even as they hide everything, and that's what makes them so provocative in 2010.
Today Christina Hendricks's breasts are a thousand times more subversive than any tatooed lower back.

 Nelly Kaprielian is a critic and editor in Paris, France.




Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mad Men's Jon Hamm is the talk of The Town




Mad Men's Jon Hamm is the talk of The Town

Star of award-winning US drama takes a break from his day job playing an ad man to promote new Ben Affleck movie at the Venice film festival
Xan Brooks in Venice
Thursday 9 September 2010 15.51 BST


 Jon Hamm as FBI special agent Adam Frawley in The Town, directed by Ben Affleck

It seemed significant that the biggest cheers at the Venice press conference for The Town were not for Ben Affleck, the film's director and star. Nor were they for the British actor Rebecca Hall or for Jeremy Renner, the Oscar-nominated star of The Hurt Locker. Instead they went to Mad Men mainstay Jon Hamm, a small-screen actor who has come to eclipse his big-screen counterparts.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hilary Mantel / Comma



C

o

m

m

a

 by Hilary Mantel





    • The Guardian, 
Knee
'It was a summer that had bleached adults of their purpose'. Photograph: Regine Petersen
I can see Mary Joplin now, in the bushes crouching with her knees apart, her cotton frock stretched across her thighs. In the hottest summer (and this was it) Mary had a sniffle, and she would rub the tip of her upturned nose, meditatively, with the back of her hand, and inspect the glistening snail-trail that was left. We squatted, both of us, up to our ears in tickly grass: grass which, as midsummer passed, turned from tickly to scratchy and etched white lines, like the art of a primitive tribe, across our bare legs. Sometimes we would rise together, as if pulled up by invisible strings. Parting the rough grass in swaths, we would push a little closer to where we knew we were going, and where we knew we should not go. Then, as if by some predetermined signal, we would flounce down again, so we would be half-invisible if God looked over the fields.
Buried in the grass we talked: myself monosyllabic, guarded, eight years old, wearing too-small shorts of black-and-white check, that had fitted me last year: Mary with her scrawny arms, her kneecaps like saucers of bone, her bruised legs, her snigger and her cackle and her snort. Some unknown hand, her own perhaps, had placed on her rat-tails a twisted white ribbon; by afternoon it had skewed itself around to the side, so that her head looked like a badly tied parcel. Mary Joplin put questions to me: "Are you rich?"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My hero / Charles Schulz

Charles Schulz




My hero Charles Schulz 

by Jenny Colgan




'He combined artistic talent, a huge sense of being the underdog, a wry, bittersweet sense of humour, and an extraordinary work ethic' 


Jenny Colgan
Saturday 17 July 2010 00.04 BST





Charl Schulz first noticed there was something unusual about his son Charles when he noticed him, aged two, drawing everything he passed with his finger in the condensation of the trolleybus window. Some gifts you're just born with. Charles "Sparky" Schulz combined artistic talent, a huge sense of being the underdog (which he retained well into his first $100m), a wry, bittersweet sense of humour, and an extraordinary work ethic.
Like many others I was raised on Peanuts and adored it. I grew up on Lucy never letting Charlie Brown get a kick of that ball; on kite-eating trees; Great Pumpkins; horrible summer camps; and dogs who get a lot of publishing rejection letters (a concept with which I was to become familiar). It gave me a vision of America – as pleasant and convivial, but with sharp undercurrents – that I am convinced remains accurate.
I didn't know then that Schulz had, in the face of threats and criticism, quietly integrated Charlie Brown's black friend Franklin into school. I didn't know he was one of the first people to mark VE Day (Snoopy always has a root beer with his army friend, Bill). I didn't even appreciate Schulz's mastery of line until much later – just look at his beautifully articulated raindrops. But I knew it was brilliant.
There was only onheir comic strips that day.
His work is touching, funny and sad. Like many overachievers, Schulz lost a parent early – his mother, just as he received his call-up papers; he was 17. She was from a stern Scandinavian family with whom he never felt at home and rarely saw in later life. In fact, he took just one thing from his European roots: the Norwegian term of endearment his mother used for him as a child – Snupie Charles Schulz. When he died in 2000, more than 100 cartoonists paid tribute to him in t

THE GUARDIAN





Friday, July 9, 2010

Digested classics / Possession by AS Byatt


DIGESTED CLASSICS

Possession by AS Byatt


Vintage Classics, £7.99

John Crace
Fri 9 Jul 2010


R
oland Michell gave his credentials; part-time research assistant to Professor Blackadder, who had been editing the Complete Works of the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash since 1951. In return, the librarian handed over one of Ash's volumes and Roland retreated to one of the dustier recesses of the London Library. On opening the book, he found two sheets of paper.

Dear Madam, Since our unexpected conversation at Crabb's breakfast table, I have thought of little else but English myth and dull literary allusion, of interest to no one but writers who take themselves far too seriously. We must speak again.
Very interesting, thought Roland. It cannot be Miss Byatt to whom Ash addressed this correspondence, for though the sentiments may fit, post-modernism was not a trait associated with Byatt and other Victorians. He placed the letters in his jacket pocket and went home.
"Did you have another boring day?" inquired the nondescript Val of her equally nondescript partner. To have called them lovers would have spoken of a depth of emotion not to be found in this book.
"Indeed I did," Roland replied. "And you?"
"Oh yes. Working for a solicitor is most satisfactorily dreary."

"It is perhaps unfortunate that all of us present day characters should have been made into two-dimensional academic stereotypes," said Professor Blackadder as Roland entered his office.
"That would certainly explain why no one ever mentions you have the same name as Rowan Atkinson's character in the television comedy series," Roland answered.
"Good Lord," AS Byatt exclaimed. "What's a television?"
Roland knew it was incumbent on him to inform the professor of his find, yet he chose to keep it to himself, electing instead to seek out the more superficial help of Fergus Wolf, the blond departmental Love God.
"Um, I was wondering if you could give me a hand," enquired Roland. "It seems that Ash may have met a woman at one of Crabb's salons. It can only have been the little-known poet, Christabel La Motte. Do you know anything about her?"

"Not a lot. Except I shagged Maud Bailey, the only academic specialising on her work, at a Lacanian conference on Feminist Semiotics in Victorian Poetry. She was a bit of a goer – ooh er, know what I mean. Everyone thought she was a lezzer, just like Christabel."

Deep in the temperature-controlled vault of the Randolph Henry Ash Centre at the University of American Caricature, Professor Martin Cropper let out an evil laugh. "Mwa-ha-ha. By hook or by crook, I shall own every Ash artefact come what may."
Roland knocked gently on the door of the Women's Studies department at Lincoln University. "Come in to my garden," said Maud, tucking her blonde hair into a head scarf in case she may be thought attractive. "So what do you think of Christabel's poetry?"
"At the risk of simplyfing the scansion / It reads a bit like Emily Dickinson," said Roland.
"Bravo," cried AS Byatt from afar, admiring her own genius.
"Excellent," said Maud. "Now it so happens I am conveniently distantly related to the La Mottes, so perhaps you might accompany me to Seal Court, where Christabel lived out her final years in solitude. Though I doubt we shall gain access, as the present owners, Sir George and Lady Joan Bailey are extremely unfriendly."
"Thank you for preventing my wheelchair from o'er turning," said Lady Joan. "However can I repay you?"
"You could let us have a rummage around for some correspondence," replied Roland. "But where to start looking?"
"Remember the lines from Mesulina," Maud exclaimed. "'For those who come searching, long after I'm dead / I've hidden the letters under the bed.'" They raced upstairs. There they were; a host of golden epistles!
My dear, The fire of Prometheus blazes deep within me, Your friend Randolph.
My dear, It is quite awkward what with my house mate, Blanche Glover, and all that, Your friend Christabel.
My dear, Hyperion's blessings fall on Albion / As my poems drone on and on / Pray read my epic Swammerdam / And let me pierce your bearded clam, Your ardent friend, Randolph.
My dear, The wonders of your verse /Would be greater if more terse. But I'll meet you anyway, Love Christabel.
My dear, I don't know why you suddenly want all your letters back and for me to contact you no more, but I shall do as you say, Yours RH Ash.
"Gosh," gasped Maud. "Scholars will have to rethink the history of Victorian Romantic poetry. It appears Ash was not devotedly uxorious to his wife Ellen and that Christabel may not have been a lesbian feminist icon.
"See the parallels in Ash's and Christabel's poems. In Ash, we find: 'Like ancient varnish runs deep / In darkest dales of tangled bushes and in Christabel, An ash I take into my mouth / As soon as I am north of Louth'. Ash did not go alone unto Yorkshire as we thought! This is why Blanche committed suicide! Perhaps we will turn up some more documents if we look hard.
"Count on it," smiled AS Byatt, "for I cannot resist showing off my ventriloquist talents."
The Journal of RH Ash. By Apollo's swollen Penisneid! Awoke to find Christabel's blood on my thighs. Perhaps Blanche does not have a dildo after all. Now Christabel has fled, wither I know not.
The Secret Diary of Ellen Ash, aged 43 and three-quarters. Randolph has come back from Yorkshire. He went with that bint but I'm not going to say another word as he's come back without her.
The Even More Secret diary of Sabine, aged 17 and two-thirds. Zut alors, ma cousine Anglaise Christabel 'as cerm to stay wiz us. She is vair obviously pregnant. Mais non! She has disparue and come back wizout ze bebe.
"It is so exciting to be on this literary trail with you," said Maud, "especially as you aren't interested in the grubby sex thing."
"Good God, no," exclaimed Roland. "Literary marginalia are far more stimulating."
"But if you fancied a bunk-up, you could have one."
"As long as we can still read poetry to one another."
"There's no time for that. AS Byatt has wasted so much time showing off her erudition, we're going to have wrap the book up in an 80-page Harry Potter romp."
Roland returned to his flat to see Val. "I'm sorry it didn't work out with you," he said, "I've been a bit Possessed."
"Don't worry," Val replied. "I've hooked up with a solicitor who coincidentally just happens to be handling the gripping issue of who keeps the letters. Hurry, there's not a moment to lose. Mortimer Cropper is plotting to illegally exhume Ash's body and retrieve the missing items Ellen placed in her coffin."
"Mwa-ha-ha, soon everything will be mine," cried Cropper, as a gothic storm broke and a yew tree pinned him to the ground.
"Not so fast," said Maud, Roland, Blackadder, Val and the Coincidental Solicitor, as they discovered a last letter from Christabel that Ellen had concealed. "I kept the baby and she's being brought up by my sis. Don't worry she's not being made to read your ghastly poetry, love and kisses C."
"So you are a direct descendant of Christabel, Maud," everyone gasped. "Then the letters are legally yours."
"Thrice darn it," snarled Cropper.
"Gosh," said Roland, "I've been offered a new job. Which is quite nice. Perhaps we should do the sex thing a bit more."
Randolph Ash rolled in his grave. "For what it's worth, I did know about my daughter, but Christabel never got my message. Hey ho, some events vanish without trace." But by then, no one was listening so no one would ever know.