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Old 14th Oct 2009, 8:55   #1
John Self
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Default Simon Crump: Neverland

Simon Crump’s book Neverland would probably have passed my (and many others’) notice but for two small matters. First, it was shortlisted for the Guardian ‘Not the Booker Prize Prize’ as a result of an enthusiastic voting campaign by Leeds United fans. Second, this book which offers us several fictional presentations of Michael Jackson was published, coincidentally, shortly after Jackson’s sudden death in June of this year. Indeed, Crump says that he finished writing the book a few hours before Jackson died.



I described Neverland simply as a ‘book’ above because it seems to straddle a line between novel and stories. The back cover refers to it as a “collection”, yet it clearly has unity of purpose and, to some extent, character – though the extent of that unity of character is not always clear. There are 72 ‘chapters’, many of which are stand-alone, flash fiction type stories, varying from a few lines to a few pages. Others are parts of longer narratives. One of these describes a very long conversation between Michael Jackson and Uri Geller, where Michael breaks biscuits in two (”his eyes grew a shade darker”) accompanied only by the “muted hum of the Frigidaire” as he fails time and again to get around to asking Uri a question, and mispronounces the word ‘electric’. It’s a series of running jokes, and like most running jokes, all the broken biscuits and muted hums become funnier the first few times, reach a plateau, and then become annoying.

The book is full of gags like this, that are either very silly or don’t quite work. This seems deliberate on Crump’s part. He cripples his jokes, just as Stewart Lee does when he drives a gag into the ground through overlong repetition, which in itself becomes funny, then not funny, then funny again. The fact that the joke is not funny is itself a joke. It might be taken as reflection of the mixture of horror and amusement that anyone watching Michael Jackson’s life over the last couple of decades will have experienced.

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The dumb kid had written Par Avian on the envelope instead of Par Avion, so the letter had been delivered by bird and as a result was almost six months late.
The main narrative in the book, broken up through its entire length, is related by Lamar (”250 lbs of fine lookin hombre“), a former assistant to Elvis who falls asleep for 16 years after the King’s death, and wakes in 1993 to take up a post in Michael Jackson’s entourage. (”There’s Disney music coming out of the fiberglass rocks in the rosebeds…”) Here, Michael is still married to Lisa Marie Presley, and Crump passes up no opportunities to make the reader squirm with the grotesquerie of life in Neverland (”I made love to Lisa in my Mickey Mouse pyjamas … One day she’s going to give me a little boy of my own”). Michael is innocent, demanding, deluded.

There are other strong stories, the best of which is ‘Gold’, and where Michael appears as a Klondike prospector. Yet here, as with other stand-alone items, the connection with Michael Jackson seemed tenuous at best, and I couldn’t rid myself of the idea that these stories had been running around in Crump’s mind independent of the Neverland project, and that he simply named a character Michael in each one to corral it into the pen. But then Crump positively encourages such misreading – you can see the glint in his eye from here – by having the Michael in Lamar’s story speak in Wikipedia entries, or to have British pop culture references from Pulp to Cannon & Ball pepper the dialogue.

Yet as Crump wrote the book while Jackson was still alive, the predominant sense is of Michael as a figure of fun. There is no indication that the real Michael Jackson had considerable talent (if long since squandered), or any appeal to people who are not (as a group of fans in the book is described) “spasticated.” Now that he has – temporarily – been rehabilitated, the tone of the book may seem out of touch and out of time; or it may seem like a refreshing antidote to hushed and over-respectful biographies. And anyway, the book is not without its own peculiarly expressed sympathy.

Quote:
Michael was born with gold in his mouth.

He left his mom without too much trouble. He shimmied out. The midwife held him in her white-gloved grip. She struck his face and a shining nugget plopped onto the soiled sheets of the birthing table. He sang and he danced. He bit off his cord. He slipped on a white glove of his own and signed a few autographs.

‘We love you Michael,’ they all said.

‘I love you more,’ he said back.

They called a priest. After all, a minute-old baby isn’t supposed to act that way.

‘Where is the gold?’ he cried. ‘Where is the gold??’

For a while there was gold, lots of it, and there were cartoons and songs and dance and lunar walking and Motown and I want you back.

We fixed him though. Then we fucked him. And we took it all.
Neverland seems like a work of conceptual art, reflecting what the reader brings to it; though the same point might be made of most books with a flash of originality to them. It is almost impossible to extract quotes from the book without misrepresenting its tone: funny, ridiculous, surreal, mesmerically repetitive. It is likely to madden as many people than it delights, and demands a fair amount of reader goodwill. Yet, as with Michael himself, I felt considerable affection for this mad, brilliant runt of the litter.

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Old 19th Oct 2009, 10:32   #2
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Default Re: Simon Crump: Neverland

I've interviewed Simon Crump on my blog.

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One of my favourite reviews for My Elvis Blackout was on a German Elvis fansite: ‘We do not know who is this Simon Crump, but he is not welcome in our town.’
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 13:59   #3
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Default Re: Simon Crump: Neverland

Simon Crump has now begun a blog of his own, where he writes about writing about Emile Zola:

http://zolaandme.wordpress.com/
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 14:15   #4
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Default Re: Simon Crump: Neverland

Could Mr Lurgee be the alias of Mr Crump over here or is it just a coencidence?
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Old 21st Mar 2010, 20:27   #5
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Default Re: Simon Crump: Neverland

I read Simon Crump's Twilight Time (2004) this week, which is his only 'novel' proper (his other three books are a collection of stories, Monkey's Birthday, and those unclassifiable fancies My Elvis Blackout and Neverland).

Twilight Time tells the story of, and is narrated by, Bruce Glasscock, foul-mouthed husband of Linda and co-curator of the Hays House, a building preserved in its 1930s integrity by the English Trust. Bruce is mocked by the local kids ("Eee fuckin' 'ell, it's fuckin' lovejoy. Sold any clocks today, mester, shagged any old ladies?") He is prone to adulterous fantasies, and once exposed himself to a friend's wife ("A bit grey and baggy perhaps, but I reckon I could still cut it with the ladies. Nothing happening in the trousers, nothing much upstairs. Not bad for fifty"), but is fairly uxorious for all that:

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I set the tea on the bedside table and same as every morning it steams over the photo of our wedding day. Me handsome in my uniform, Linda trussed up in her mother's dress, all nipples and organza, thick fog drifting in.
The uniform is an army one, and we get the impression that Bruce has never really adjusted to life outside. ("I've seen the world and I didn't like it.") He enjoyed the orderliness of the army, just as he did with school before that ("They'd tell you when to speak and when to not, when and where to sit, when to shit and when to pretend to relax". Even now he resents his job, where he's second fiddle to his wife, and wishes "I was a binman. The pay's good, the job keeps you fit, you're out in the fresh air all morning and down the pub by dinner. You don't have to think or worry about fuck all"). He spent so long adjusting himself to fit in with school and army colleagues that now "[I] don't fit in anywhere any more." His life, to paraphrase Philip Larkin, seems like an enormous no.

All this makes Twilight Time sound like a gloomy read, but it's not. The dominant tone is of comic absurdity, from the satire on National Trust heritage (passionate debate arises at a meeting to determine how often, if at all, the toilet hinges in the Hays House should be cleaned), to excruciating banter on sexual hang-ups. But the melancholy comes often enough to develop into a recurrent theme, and the moments of greatest candour from Bruce (one review on the back cover calls him 'dishonest', which I'd dispute: he's completely honest, which is one of his main weaknesses) tread a line between awkward and affecting:

Quote:
The air smells like snow. I remember the first time I kissed her. She cut through me, the drinks cut me in half. I put a ring on her finger and brushed back her hair. I am, I am not a freak. Somehow I lost my connection, somehow I lost my way. Mind like a sewer, memory like a sieve.
And if I hadn't read and liked Neverland so much, I would have wondered whether the awkwardness was Crump's or his character's. Twilight Time lacks Neverland's multi-faceted brilliance. However, like Neverland, it seems sometimes inconsequential, daft and annoying, but by the end, the undertow of melancholy built up so forcefully that it caught me unawares and quite swept me away. It made me want to do what reviewers so often claim to do: I wanted to reread the book immediately to see how Bruce had got here almost without my noticing. (The impulse soon passed, but the point remains.) What seemed like a scatological comic tale turned out to be a wrenching character study. When Bruce carries out some premature gardening on the house grounds, his response to Linda's 'What are you doing?' tells us about his attitude to much else besides:

Quote:
"I'm just trying, I am just trying, Linda, to get it over with."
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