Morrissey, the eponymous whinger who cast off the shackles of first and middle: Steven, Patrick – names without the portent of his titular self, hot on the tails of the story of his life rendered in print as for all to see through the transparency of this existence, so moribund yet necessary for all that is, is… all that was, was… and all that will be, will be – Que Cera, Cera – has deigned to introduce to the world a second work this time of the novella form that excites in a sense that only the purely fictional can ever do, such is the blandness of reality that only sweet, soothing lies may allow us to feel any real sense of being in this endless, perpetual angst.
Apologies, allow me to translate: The once-singer of The Smiths has written a novel and it reads somewhat like the above paragraph. Morrissey’s autobiography (entitled ‘Autobiography’ because that’s the sort of pretentious thing Morrissey does) proved, at the very least, that the controversial singer’s inimitable lyrical style could translate to the written word, and that he could be even more maudlin and magniloquent than his entire discography if a publisher would just give him a chance. That publisher was Penguin, who released the work as part of their Classics range – an honour usually reserved for dead authors, the significance of whose work was time-tested. Morrissey probably insisted upon this as a condition of release because he’s even more pretentious than you can believe.
None of this is to say I dislike Morrissey. I mean, I like his music. Well, The Smiths – most of his solo stuff is a bit rubbish. Speaking of which, I strongly recommend that, as you read this, you listen to this to remind you that Morrissey isn’t completely without merit. I am about to make you hate him.
But love him or hate him there’s no denying that Morrissey is a unique figure in music history, and that’s mostly down to the intelligence and honesty of his songwriting which was a refreshing change from the superficiality of the eighties. His autobiography simply couldn’t have been ghostwritten as no one could possibly replicate his egocentric, mopey style. Similarly, List of the Lost is so Morrissey it hurts. At least it’s only published in an old-fashioned Penguin jacket, because it certainly isn’t worthy of Classic status.
As I write this, I’m 8 pages in. It’s the sort of novel you have to stop and make notes on because the process of how it eventually sent you insane will be invaluable to psychologists and literary scholars of the future. Already, Morrissey has established very little aside from the fact that this novel is probably about four boys who make up a relay team in Boston. That, and that he intends to intersperse his attempt-at-a-narrative with soliloquies about the futility of existence and the woes of getting old, as and when the fancy strikes him.
It’s said that James Joyce wrote Ulysses as an experiment that attempted to capture the essence of Dublin in such a way that, should the city have burnt down, one could use his novel as a blueprint to rebuild it exactly as it had been before. Joyce endeavoured to capture the soul of an entire city, culture and history within the pages of a book and, though that’s an admirable aim, his last words before he croaked were ‘Does nobody understand?’ which just goes to show how well his literature-experiment worked out for him.
Similarly, it seems Morrissey wants to capture his own existential angst in book form so that, after he dies of terminal misery, it will be possible to create a robot with his maudlin persona and tendency to descend into unrelenting, meaningless introspection at the drop of a hat. I’d like to emphasise that this will merely be possible and that no one should ever attempt to do it: to imbue any sentient being with such a level of grandiose despondency would be a completely unethical undertaking. At this point, I’d like to remind you I’ve still only read 8 pages of this novella.
By page 20 I have realised that this whole book is going to be masturbation. Nothing’s happened so far. Characters are saying things sometimes, and then Morrissey goes off on one, but his point, if there ever was one, is lost in meaningless prose. There are words on the page – big words, little words, quite beautifully arranged words – but they’re all meaningless, because Morrissey’s just wanking onto the paper. And the thing about masturbation is that you can cycle through as many ChatRoulette live streams as you want whilst stroking your member, but only the person doing the masturbating ever enjoys it. Morrissey is pleasuring himself with an old Penguin paperback, an uncomfortable but necessary image.
Nonetheless, I hope the eventual audio book is read by Russell Brand, although I doubt either party would agree to such an arrangement. Both are divisive characters who use a forced magniloquence to sound important but ultimately end up saying nothing because they make themselves incomprehensible to anyone listening. Morrissey’s faux intellectualism would sound good in Brand’s over-enunciated, Estuary drawl.
Getting back to the action (if we can really call it that), an elderly, embittered tramp just went on a five-page-long diatribe about how awful his life was, and then got punched into a deadly nightshade plant SIMULTANEOUSLY breaking his head open on the root of an oak tree. Talk about overkill! Morrissey has successfully jumped the shark. Perhaps this is the event that kicks off the narrative in this novel. Then again, perhaps Morrissey is going to go on another pompous rant about the meaninglessness of everyone else’s existence.
I think Morrissey might’ve learnt to write from David Attenborough documentaries. His breathy delivery would certainly improve the audio version. Describing a night-0ut (much like the whole plot so far, the sex is implied), Morrissey describes with the detached air of a naturalist rather than with the authoritative tone of a knowledgeable human being. That said, Morrissey once proclaimed himself to be of a fourth sex, so it’s hardly surprising that he describes intercourse with the stilted, euphemistic repertoire of a young Mormon buying melons in the supermarket.
Most of the time it’s Morrissey as narrator spontaneously going off on a rant in the second or third person, but sometimes it’s another character who randomly turns up to inexplicably berate the reader’s senses. If this were a play, the four main boys would be played by young actors so generic in manner as to be entirely forgettable. Every other actor would wear a Morrissey mask in order to fulfil the demands of their role: soliloquizing about topics that Morrissey finds annoying such as the Royals, meat-eaters and, in one bizarre episode, a five-page assassination of the sexlessness of ’60s NBC western series Bonanza, and it’s significance as an allegory for the totalitarianism of US Politics in the 1980s. His writing process seems similar to his approach regarding concerts: open with ‘Suedehead’, get bored, lay into something that annoyed him in his dressing room, follow-up with a throwback rendition of ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’.
If we want to look at List of the Lost in a literary frame (too bad, we’re going to anyway), it’s a bit like watching Camus and Joyce have a fight, mangling both themselves and every other twentieth century writer in the process. Morrissey may well have murdered all writers past, present and future by simply entering their field. It’s a nihilistic meditation on the meaninglessness of the events that shape our existence, but it’s done with all the verbosity and sheer disregard for the English language that defines Joyce’s work. Morrissey likes wordplay, especially when it sounds clever but does absolutely nothing other than irritate. “Shoulder to shoulder, boulder to boulder” is not witty or profound, it’s an attempted pun being thrown in my face without my consent, and I’m uncomfortable with that.
Unfortunately, Morrissey’s comparative lyrical wit fails to translate to the narrative form. Sometimes it seems as though he doesn’t realise songwriting and novel-writing are separate vocations; occasional phrases and pointless rhymes feel plucked from songs that didn’t make the album cut. If one were to collect all of these, there’d be enough material for another Smiths record. Although it’s a little fanciful to believe that Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke and the drummer no one remembers would reunite for this drivel. Some of the terrible lines include “the wanton buggery of judicial thuggery”, “intrigue fed dreams with blitzkrieg schemes”, and my personal favourite, “with the old glory rising like the lash of a whip at the starboard tip of a mid-storm ship losing its grip”. It’s like being assaulted by an amateur poet
By the way, the plot did sort of happen. Skip over this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers (insofar as such a novel could be spoiled). After the incident in which the protagonist punched a tramp into his grave, one of the members of the relay team woke up to find his mum had spontaneously dropped dead and, in a grief-soaked revelation of the futility of his continued existence, committed suicide using a cocktail of alcohol and heroin. The relay team in ruins, the remaining three gave up on their dreams of college-athletics glory. One of them then encountered the ghost of a woman in the locker-room (as you do) who informed him that the body of her dead son, molested and murdered by the college Dean, lay in the grounds and requested that he be properly buried. The protagonist obliged, confronted the Dean but it came to nothing. The relay team tried to race again with a forgettable replacement for their dead comrade, but they were all rubbish and their coach quit on them. Then it went into the Bonanza-American Politics rant before giving way to a bizarre sex scene featuring the protagonist and his girlfriend, resembling a form of copulation no one ever wants to experience: “the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone” – this is the writing that won Morrissey the Bad Sex Award of 2015 (in his defence, I don’t think he deserved to win). Whilst these two victims of the American sexual education system continued to flail nakedly, the two other members of the team went to confront the sexually-wayward Dean, who proceeded to beat them to death with bottles of Dom Perignon (THAT’S A REALLY SUBTLE METAPHOR FOR THE RICH BEATING THE POOR). Meanwhile, the main character admitted to his girlfriend that he’d killed the tramp in the woods (which I assumed she already knew), and she was on the cusp of leaving him, but as he drove her home a car crashed into them killing her instantly and leaving him severely wounded. Morrissey laments for a few pages and finally the protagonist hallucinates the tramp watching him die…
All in all, Morrissey’s first foray into fiction is a miserable orgy of self-indulgent wordplay and meaningless diatribes where the plot plays second fiddle to Morrissey’s lengthy, vitriolic takedowns of things that irritate him. In his Autobiography this was fine because everyone expected his life-story to be full of self-pitying rants; but a work of invention should never feature so much of the author’s thinly-veiled, impotent rage. Morrissey’s wibbling aside, the plot’s events are implied rather than felt – on the rare occasions things do happen you can’t quite be sure they really did thanks to the ambiguous, flowery prose that destroys every sentence and sentiment Morrissey tries and fails to convey. The odd moments of potential are ruined by misanthropic tangents and an overemphasis on nihilism and randomness which were okay in the 1920s when these concepts were new in literature, but just seem overdone and irritating especially when expounded by the egocentric, human-disaster that is Morrissey. List of the Lost can only be described as an ‘experience’, and it is not in any sense a positive one.