June 21, 2006


Max Dunbar, who wrote the Ready Steady Book review, wrote an email response to my post about the review. Our exchange is now linked on the RSB blog.

"Thanks for your feedback on my review. Despite my criticisms, I did like the book. It's a fine story and you are good at convincing characters and at creating a mood.

The main point of Vicente's blackmail is the affair. Correct me if I'm wrong but that is the main hold he has over Sennet and the reason Sennet kills him. What I am saying in my review is that adultery isn't a big deal and will not cost you anything in status or money. You might have heard about our Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. He's been revealed to have been having an affair with his secretary. Despite massive attacks from the conservative press he still has his job and remains, as far as I can tell from talking to people, popular with voters.

If Vicente really had proof that Sennet was trying to kill Persephone that might be more significant, but all he says is 'Your fist's in the air and then it comes down on the back of the head. She screams.' (p70). Presumably if Sennet took Vicente to court Persephone would testify that he was not trying to assault her. In fact a good lawyer could build a convincing invasion-of-privacy case on what Vicente has got (at least in this country- our libel laws are very draconian).

Books about celebrity culture - Bret Ellis's Glamorama, Ben Elton's Dead Famous - are often seen as Marxist fables and sometimes they are. The point I tried to make on RSB is that there is another criticism of celeb culture that is conservative, less about redistribution of wealth than simple puritanism. There is an element of envy in this. Columnists on British tabloids insult the A-list because they covet it and want to be part of it. You need to know what you're saying and be careful where one critique fades into the other.

And you make a very good point in your rebuttal that I hadn't considered- 'criticising Hollywood-style hedonism could be considered right wing because it is a mantra of conservatives.' People on the right are always going on about Hollywood liberals poisoning American society with their permissive and materialist ideas. McCarthy thought half of the film industry was run by Communist agents. And anti-semites also target Hollywood as a base of the international Zionist conspiracy.

You say, 'Celebrity has a far reaching grip on our culture... it should be reined in.' I hear you. I am with you. I just think that, although you have written a good novel, you have not made a particularly original critique. You don't take account of the changes in celebrity culture over the last ten years. While I don't think that celebrities are incapable of murder, I also disagree that being a celebrity makes one more likely to become a murderer.

Thanks again for reading and responding to my review. Feel free to publish our correspondence on your blog."

…I’ll say what I said before. The murders are just a way to explore the insanity of celebrity culture. I don’t think celebrities are all capable of murder. Though Tom Cruise has proven himself to be pretty damn unstable. Do I think he’s capable of serial killing? Probably not, that's an exaggeration--though there is a rumor that he had his gay lover offed to cover up his homosexuality.

In the end, I’m glad the book’s getting such careful attention. It’s amazing to me that a sentence could begin "Hobbes, Houllebecq and Henry Baum…"


Nathan said...

Henry, you have to let the readers interpret it for themselves, or else theres no point. Your giving us the spark notes.

Henry Baum said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

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