Review: Morrissey – “List of the Lost”

list_of_the_lost
List of the Lost by Morrissey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When you see an idol falter, you want to carry its wings and see it through. I was even prepared to give Morrissey a free pass here, based on my love for his lyrics and even for the semi-flawed last part of his otherwise brilliant “Autobiography”. So, what did we face from this book?

Many reviewers seem to avoid the fact that Morrissey has actually written a couple of short books before having his autobiography published. This, however, is his first non-lyrical, fictional offering to the world.

The start was promising. A gang of men, runners all, are described using various inflections and rhymes, recalling William Faulkner and dadaistic poets, as dialogue is spurted out. Sentences like the following are often found:

Surrounded by women, some mechanically minded, some badly made-up, and all envious of one another, the boys had heartily gnawed at their iron bars and unwisely allowed alcohol a free dash at their brains because things overall mattered a little less since their track timings were now a bed of roses and their overall fitness boomed good times ahead, and what harm would a little devilment do?

To me, the first half of the book seemed more like an attempt to use clever wordplay to parlay Morrissey’s own views of the world, by generally rephrasing his thoughts on murdering animals, on judges, on women, et cetera, rather than making a book come together.

In my view, the most obvious problem with this book, is that the author has simply not learned to write as a professional, and it shows, both in style and editing. Even though sentences and stanzas are beautiful to read and will be long-lasting, the book does not hold up as a whole, which pains me to say. Where Morrissey single-handedly revived lyrical writing where the whole musical universe is concerned, and made his autobiography light up the literary world some (where musical artists’ autobiographies are concerned, especially), this tome is cracked.

I feel that Morrissey has tried hard to write this, while acting complacently and lacklustre with parts that clearly did require fierce editing prior to publication. He introduces the book by thanking his editor, who also edited “Autobiography”, but I would like to hold her – and Penguin – to the wall for this.

So, how about that writing?

At the start of the book, Morrissey veers between describing the youthful men and their physical apotheosis, and also poetically describes the inevitable human physical downfall:

Look at them now in their manful splendor and wonder how it is that they could possibly part this earth in dirt, as creased corpses, falling back as the skeletons that we already are, yet hidden behind musculature that will fall in time at life’s finishing line.

[…]

It is certainly something to dwell excitedly within a body that fully and proudly shows whatever the person is, since we all, for the most part, struggle in haunted fashion, unaware of ourselves as flesh, looking at a future that does not show promise, or back at a past that couldn’t provide any, and permanently petrified at passing through without ever having lived.

[…]

The body is a thing only, of which we all irrationally fear … how to control, how to control … that which controls us.

Morrissey inevitably delves into gender, where men are irrevocably hailed and women are looked down upon, lost and not at all interesting, which has drawn a fair amount of criticism where writers feel Morrissey is a misogynist. The Daily Beast’s article about this, titelled “Morrissey’s First Novel ‘List of the Lost’ Is a Bizarre, Misogynistic Ramble“, makes valid points. Even though many an apologist may excuse Morrissey by saying he has simply painted a portrait where the characters of his book think and say these things, the fact remains, that men are intricately looked into, where women are frowned upon in a variety of disdainful ways. Examples of this:

Although the publicly confessed lust of the man must always be made to seem ridiculous and prepubescent, the lust of the woman is at first childlike and desperate – as if they know there is something about which they know nothing, and this itch takes on the aggressive – which almost never works.

Women are less of a mystery because their methods and bodies have been over-sold, whereas the male body speaks as the voice calls a halt.

Of Margaret Thatcher:

I hate womb-men like that…they just can’t wait to be one of the boys…and just watch, if she becomes prime minister she won’t hire any women into her government. Why do I even care? I mean, just look at her face.

There are some beautiful one-liners found throughout the book:

Justice and the law are two entirely different things.

Unless I am with you I shall never be where I belong.

Look at the blue of the sky and tell me why you held back. Did you think there would one day be a bluer sky and a better hour?

“I thought you’d said goodbye?” said Nails, nursing his hand. “Nails. To you … someone will always be saying goodbye …” Rims threw his final dart. With that he walked away.

It is impossible for Morrissey to deviate from his own persona. As he is a staunch vegetarian, the matter of animals being slaughtered by humans pops up from time to time:

In the church of secret service known as the abattoir this is exactly what humans excitedly do to beautiful bodies of animals who were also crafted in care by some divine creationist, yet at the human hand the animals are whacked and hacked into chopped meat whilst gazing up at their protector with disbelief and pleading for a mercy not familiar to the human spirit, ground and round into hash or stew for the Big Mac pleasure of fat-podge children whose candidature for roly-poly vicious porkiness makes their plungingly plump parents laugh loudly, as little junior blubber-guts orders yet another Superburger with tub-of-guts determination to stuff death into round bellies, and such kids come to resemble their parents as ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.

He even gets in words about people whom he has hailed throughout his existence, e.g. Buffy Sainte-Marie and James Baldwin, paired with his hatred for the monarchy and the justice system. It could have been used better, instead of making me feel as though the book, at times, is another blog platform for Morrissey.

Some sections of the book are plainly confusing, e.g. one about former president Ronald Reagan, gender and the fictive Cartwright family:

Reagan has no time for black power, women’s rights, gay liberation, animal rights, anti-war rallies or student demonstrations. He contrasts all of the exciting changes that made America new again, and he offers old-fashioned power-politics, the type of which must always keep a profitable war on the go … everything old (including himself ) sold off like fake insurance to the all-powerful conglomerate America of Bonanza, a rich and expertly presented daily television drama where cow-rustling Ben Cartwright lives handsomely with his three sons (none of whom share one single gene, since all three are of different mothers, and, magically, all three mothers are either dead or hidden behind studio curtains).

[…]

and although deity Ben Cartwright had fathered three sons from three women who had usefully dissolved into tumbleweed, his three strapping sons themselves do not reproduce and almost never pair off for passionate romance.

And let’s not miss what I think is the most written-about stanza in the whole of the book:

At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and 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. Both fell awkwardly off the bed, each tending to their own anguish yet still laughing an impaired discomfort of giggles whilst curving into a hunched disadvantage.

Well, bulbous salutation confronted, I will choose to put the wording out of my mind for now.

All in all, this is a fairly muddled ride through Morrissey’s mind, rather than through a slew of sporting men and their lives. Opportunities came knocking, were wasted yet some shimmer like diamonds in the sky.

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