Larkin About With The King (i.e. Stephen not Jack Kirby)

John Kane

Sorry, I’ve been a bit light on the old comics reading front this week. I did read some books without pictures (they still make ‘em!) so rather than have everyone think I’d fallen off the face of the earth I thought I’d write about them instead.

One of the books features this poor doomed b*stard who briefly starred in the John Byrne/Roger Stern 12 issue series MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION in either #4 or #9 (it’s complicated):

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After all if I can’t give you bad reviews of comics I can at least give you bad reviews of books.

Okay, it’s a little bit cheeky and I’ll try not to do it again. Anyway…

 11.22.63
By Stephen King
(Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99)

In King’s latest pound cake of a novel Jake Epping, an English teacher and King Everyman, gets the chance to go back and stop the Kennedy assassination. Not exactly a groundbreaking premise there as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Still,  King manages to make it sit up and dance by concentrating on his usual strengths and investing it with duelling undercurrents of anger and forgiveness. He paints a pretty picture of The Past but doesn’t neglect the shabby unsettling bits that eat away at the picture postcard perfection like surreptitious silverfish. Sure, cars and root beer were better but if you weren’t an educated white male life sure had its drawbacks. Heck, even if you were an educated white male Life still had its drawbacks because, after all, it was still Life. And that’s what the book, I’d say, is really about; life and the living of it. Bad things happen and maybe they happen for a reason and maybe they don’t; the important thing is to accept they have happened and keep on moving forward. Because moving forward is the only kind of time travel we have and this is the only life we have. Yes, I am aware of how trite that sounds thanks for asking but I reckon it’s true and it’s the first thing to be forgotten when the machine full of whirling teeth snags your sleeve and pulls you in.

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It’s a big book and like all King’s big books it has flaws but it’s surprisingly easy to forgive them here. The sometimes wearying repetition is, after all, built into the thing by design and the surprising ease of Jake’s eventual flight could be interpreted as The Past trying to eject him like the troublesome foreign body he is (weirdly this isn’t made overt despite King being way too explicit about many of the other “rules” of time travel) and I’m never too pleased by King’s tendency to demonise the mentally ill but that’s one of his pets and its served him well so it would be unlikely for him to have it put down now. The prose is largely functional (and whoever edited it missed at least one sentence caught in a word search transition from the third to the first person) but when you transmute prose into poetry as deftly as King does on more than one occasion (most memorably with “Dancing is life.”) that’s more than enough.

Although 11.22.63 sags a little at times it is a surprisingly tense and moving affair that is far more rewarding than the unpromising premise might lead you to believe. It’s a big book but it’s got a big heart and so I’d go ahead and say it is VERY GOOD!

 

PHILIP LARKIN POEMS: Selected by Martin Amis
By Philip Larkin
(Faber and Faber, £14.99)

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Such a blunt title. And why not? It tells you all you need to know. As long as you are familiar with Larkin and Amis and don’t hop like scalded cat away from any mention of poetry it does anyway. Philip Larkin (1922-1985) is one of England’s most widely regarded and best loved poets. Sure, there has been some attempt since his death to topple him with accusations of racism and misogyny fuelled mostly by “evidence” in his letters. This attempt at usurpation seems largely to have been initiated by the kind of Literary Sorts who continue to regard Martin Amis as an “enfant terrible” despite the biological fact of his being some sixty-odd years old. Happily after a brief wobble his reputation has stabilised for as Amis says in his (worth the price of admission alone) introduction: “writer’s private lives don’t matter; only the work matters.”(p.xix) And this work? While I’m certain it was work for the author (he was hardly banging this stuff out at a rate of knots) it’s certainly anything but for the reader.

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Amis is ideally placed to offer up a retrospective such as this and it has little to do with the fact that Larkin was a friend of Martin Amis’ father (Sir Kingsley Amis). That certainly makes his introduction sparkle and throb with life but the success of his selection depends wholly on the fact that Martin Amis knows words. Yes, Martin Amis knows words. When it comes to words Martin Amis has form. He knows what he’s on about. It helps that he unsentimentally believes that as Larkin went on he got better. So there’s a smattering of the early stuff but the bulk of the book is the later stuff. All the smash hits are here:“They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad” (This Be The Verse), “Groping back to bed after a piss” (Sad Steps) and, the eternal Christmas Number One, “Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(Which was rather late for me)” (Annus Mirabilis).

Stuff it, they are all preposterously good  it’s just that some work a quieter number on the head than the more immediate stuff. He’s got Life’s number alright, that Philip Larkin. From the quiet despair we hope no one ever suspects us of, through the tedium of the toad work and the eternal magic of being strapped for cash right up and out to the joy of music and Love. Can there ever be a better testament to the effect of a piece of music on a person than “On me your voice falls as they say love should,/Like an enormous yes…”(For Sidney Bechet) Look, quoting Larkin is the act of a berk, better to just give someone the whole bloody book. And can there be any higher recommendation for a book? I doubt it because PHILIP LARKIN POEMS: Selected by Martin Amis is EXCELLENT!

 

Once again, I apologise for the Non-Comisy-ness of this and its general poor quality. Can I wish you all a nice weekend and we can call it quits?

If I do get chance I’ll stick something up about comics but it’s unlikely because Christmas is a coming and it ain’t stopping for no one!

Now, like Stephen King’s belief in brevity – I’m GONE!

8 Responses to “ Larkin About With The King (i.e. Stephen not Jack Kirby) ”

  1. I actually liked your “Moving forward is the only time travel we have” line.

    And I need to read another King book. It’s been too long.

  2. Wow! It’s finally happened…I read something you reviewed! YAY! I badly wanted to say something Inteligent about the Russ Heath stuff, but I had nothing.

    Anyway, I haven’t read much King. I like what I have read, I’ve just not read much of it, so I missed a lot of his conventions. The demonizing of the mentally ill? I didn’t notice it. I’m not saying it wasn’t there, just that I didn’t see it. I enjoyed the book a lot, but the one thing that drove me nuts is the main character sounded like he was from 1981, not 2011. All his analogies and slang just sounded so out of place. It read more like my dad, a 60 year old guy, was back in the past rather than a younger guy.

    I love me some Martin Amis, but I have no idea who Philip Larkin is, sorry. Sounds like a good book, though.

  3. @Adam: Well, he’s still pumping ‘em out. Bear in mind that 11.22.63 is only probably just GOOD! really. I think I upped it a notch out of sentiment and the massive relief that comes when you’ve waded through a book thicker than your thigh and it doesn’t just sputter and fart at the end.

    @Chris Hero: Well, not having anything intelligent to say about Russ Heath didn’t stop me! Ba-DoOM!

    The mentally ill, well there was the Deadbeat Derry Dad, The Broom Man and Luckless Lee to name but three. Then again I guess they were supposed to be iterations of the same type, examples of Time’s “harmonising” and what not. Okay, I may have overreacted (moi!?!) but it seems, having read 99.999% of his stuff, like when King needs a Baddie he often reaches for the tin marked “Nutters”.

    As for the strangely old young man at the novel’s centre…Oooh, You’re good. I missed that. Good catch. In my defence I am actually old so even though Jake acted older than he should he was still acting younger than me. He did know what The Internet was though, that’s quite Young!

    I am glad you like Smarty Marty. I hear he speaks highly of you too. There’s no need to apologise about not knowing Larkin, he didn’t get about much. I guess I don’t know how well Larkin’s work would travel, on one hand he’s very English and very rooted in his time but on the other, more swollen, hand he’s neither because what’s True tends to stay so wherever and whenever you live. (I’m thinking of getting a job at Hallmark). I guess the former might put people off discovering the latter. I just think Larkin’s the man, you know?

    My thanks to all as ever!

  4. Grant Morrison has broken out the Larkin homages a few times, the most prominent one being the subtitle to Arkham Asylum (“A Serious House on Serious Earth” from “Church Going”) Plus, the time he had Animal Man scam a time machine out of Rip Hunter and tell him “Naturally, the League will bear your expenses, Dr. Hunter.” Okay, that’s two I suppose. Still, probably above the comic book average…

    –Chris K

  5. It´s been a long time since I last read King. I used to stand in line (metaphorically speaking) for his next novel since The Shining, but somewhere in the 90s he lost me and I stopped reading him.

    Concerning “The Nutter”, hasn´t this become a fictional fundament on which whole franchises were built? American tv like Law&Order SVU or especially Criminal Minds depends on The Nutter as the Baddie which preys on the Innocent. (Or the Internet as the root of all evil if it is sweeps week).

    I am too much out of tune with King to say if he also is guilty of this. But now that I think of it he loved his nutters since Carrie´s mom.

    11.22.63 sounds promising, though. It is a theme you often see in popular fiction, the idea that this is the moment where the american dream took the wrong way. (which seems an incredibly simplistic idea.) I guess it will be at least interesting to see what King does with this topic.

    Thanks for the review. Something different is always welcome.

  6. @Chris K: Nice ones, sir. Particularly the second example which I believe I never caught. Yeah, I reckon Morrison must be above average as his works is very, very allusive. It’s always nice when a work recognises the world outside itself. Mind you I understand the Marvel Architects litter their work with references to Sylvia Plath. Or it might be Burn Notice. They are after all both quite similar.

    @AndyD: Nah, raising that as you do made me realise that King is actually quite good with The Nutters. As numerous and sensationalised as they are at least they mean/represent something in his books. I wasn’t going after him with the burning torches or anything, after all he’s a lot better than, as you point out, Pop cultchah! as a whole.

    Because, yes, there’s a lot of lazy Bad Guy = Nutter out there. Maybe I should take advantage of that and spearhead a new technique in the treatment of the mentally unhygienic consisting of just one session, during which the Mental Health professional surprises the mentally unkempt one at home by leaping through their window to the accompaniment of some’70s Rock, rolls about a bit in the glass and then shoots the patient in the face.

    All right thinking folk know that America took the Wrong Way in 1775 the tragic result of which is that I have never actually understood the phrase “sweeps week”.

    My thanks to you both!

  7. Nice thoughts on Larkin, John. I came to him via Mart (his countless references in novels, stuff in the Experience memoir, and a killer couple essays in War Against Cliche), and take you at your word that it’ll be worth buying a book of poems I already own for his introduction.

    Also: comics!

  8. @RF: Buying stuff you already own but in another edition? Comics have taught you well, sir!

    My thanks as ever.

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