Monday, May 10, 2010

Dazed and Amused

Last week I posted about "Mary Sue", the practice in which the author inserts an idealised version of himself into the narrative, usually to detrimental effect. To my mind, Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy succeeded in spite rather than because of the co-protagonist's resemblance to the author, but we'll leave that aside for now...

The question of authors appearing as their own protagonists came to mind again when I picked up Gavin James Bower's Dazed and Aroused, a story about a male model written by a former male model. Alex, the protagonist, is not a likeable character: he shags and snorts his way up--and ultimately down--the greasy pole of modelling stardom without once evoking the reader's sympathy or experiencing any emotion beyond mild irritation. If Alex is a Mary Sue for Gavin James Bower, then I wouldn't much like to meet the author.

As things happen, in the course of hobnobbing with the stars, I have in fact met him (at Chichester Bookswap last month) and I'm pleased to report that he's nothing like Alex. Although Alex is drawn from the author's experience, he is no way a proxy, and Bower's literary aims are rather more ambitious than fictionalised autobiography. It's a huge risk for a writer to craft a novel with no sympathetic characters--particularly when the central character is both dislikeable and inarticulate. In 50,000 words (Bower wisely keeps it short), he presents us with a sharp satire of celebrity, consumer culture and fashion, and although there are no jokes, it is shot through with a dark and mordant humour. The influence of writers like Bret Easton Ellis is clear, but Bower is confident in his own voice and the ability of the reader to understand the narrative game he is playing. Reviewers generally got it too: my favourite response came from Damian Barr: "so shallow it's almost deep".

Even if you have no interest in the fashion industry, you'll find plenty to enjoy in Bowers' merciless eye and sharp prose.Justify Full
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David Isaak said...

I think people often leap to the conlcusion that characters are stand-ins for the authors or the author's fantasy life, but there are many tales (like the one you told here) that point to much the contrary.

Probably the most extreme case is that of the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in the movei "Adaptation." The movie's Charlie Kaufman is paunchy, balding, sweaty, and insecure, and has a twin brother named Donald--to whose memory the film is dedicated. In reality, of course, Charlie Kaufman is trim, has a head of hair approaching Afro scale, appears rather unflappable, and has never had a twin brother.

At this point, however, I gather than many people assume that Charlie Kaufman is much as portrayed in the film. What do you call it when you create a false Mary-Sue?

Tim Stretton said...

"What do you call it when you create a false Mary-Sue?"

A headache...