Tuesday 20 March 2018

Long-winded titles and casual obscenities . . .

William Shawn must be spinning in his grave. The late New Yorker editor, who was famous for his fastidiousness, regarded coarse language with particular horror -- and now, courtesy of a couple of Irish writers, it's all over the magazine's pages.

A few months back, Kevin Barry's short story, Fjord of Killary, was littered with casual obscenities, while in the current issue Roddy Doyle's latest story, Ash, has 13 uses of the F-word, two of the C-word and various references to "riding" -- as in "she rode him again" and "she rode the arse off me." What would demure old William say?

The story, about a marriage in crisis, is also notable for its up-to-the-minute topicality, which is suggested in the title and is introduced near the end with: "They all sat in front of the telly and watched the Icelandic volcano erupting." Is this a metaphor for a burnt-out marriage? You can decide for yourself by reading the story at www.newyorker.com.


Ash is an unusually short title, whereas the current fad in fiction is for long ones. Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time seems to have started the trend, and nowadays no self-respecting author makes do with less than six words.

There's Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Jonathan Coe's The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and Andrew O'Hagan's The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe -- titles that tell stories in themselves, perhaps for readers who'll never get round to reading the books in question.

But none of them comes near the title length of American writer William T Vollmann's latest book, a work of social anthropology that glories in the name Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theatre, with Some Thoughts on Muses (Especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines.

Irish Independent

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