Poking Fun at Book Critics

Rupert Thomson has written a novel under the title of a memoir. He is out to take book critics for a ride. As far as I was able to find reviews, he was extremely successful even though plot, style, and hyperbole used are a dead give-away. But the book offers much more than schadenfreude at the expense of hapless professional book reviewers.

Book critics are at their best (or worst) when imagining autobiographic content in fiction. They have become so good at it that no book can be published without an in-depth analysis of the author's personal life to 'prove' that content. Not to be left out by contemporary literature critics, historical literature experts apply the same system to Shakespeare and Chaucer. It is devolving from bad joke to shaggy dog story. 

Rupert Thomson turned the tables on them with a flourish. Granta has published his latest book under the title This Party's Got To Stop: A Memoir. In it, the author takes the book critics on the ride of their life. And he takes all the unnecessary and purely fictional autobiographies published every year along on this ride showing them up for the fiction they really are. 

His story is about three brothers moving back into the family home after losing both parents. Being in their twenties with one of them married and with a child, the set-up is perfect to tell a horror story of human relations and claustrophobia. Thomson plays his cards with aplomb; the full set of drinks, drugs, and rock n’ roll comes into play while he manages to stay strictly within the boundaries of the literary form of a novel. 

As the story evolves, it becomes darker, ever more claustrophobic, and violent. He shows how living too close may become a trap, a negation of individuality, as personal traits become signs of aggression to the people bundled up in the set. Accordingly, the young family bunches together against the two bachelor brothers, devolves paranoia, and starts moving around the house armed with knives. 

His dream sequences and flashbacks may sometimes become boring and distracting, but Thomson makes up for it when forcefully poking fun at book critics. I think my favorite joke is the part where he explains that the family unit suspected the bachelor brothers of an 'incestuous homosexual relation'. He stops himself short of trying to explain where the genetic defects of their children would come from, but I felt like he was sorely tempted. 

Around this story he weaves a web of research into family history which shows up how fast we tend to forget and replace memories with pure fiction. He also exemplifies the reluctance of relatives to go into family history that they perceive as disturbing or abnormal. The book might be salutary reading if you plan to research your family's genealogy. If you do it properly, it usually destroys all the chrished myths that made you proud of being part of that family.

All in all, it is a very canny book. It is mandatory reading for all those who think that families should live in each other's pockets and those that permanently lament the lack of closeness within the family. He shows up that being not too close brings you closer rather than the other way round.