A positive review of Morrissey's List of the Lost

Full disclosure. Big Morrissey fan. Loved Autobiography. Even the courtroom sequence, which everyone else appeared to find utterly soporific, I found dramatic and involving. To say I’ve been looking forward to reading List of the Lost is a bit of an understatement. Only the return of Twin Peaks has my breath equally bated.

And there are similarities with David Lynch, here. The book does not fully explain itself, it leaves you with questions, and there are things that just are. There is a dark force at work for which there is no Judaeo-Christian rationale. It’s almost as if, when the filth-encrusted, plot-propelling wretch appears, physically reminiscent of the thing behind the diner in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, it’s the universe’s response to the very existence of the four central characters and their prime-of-life perfection. It’s as if tragedy simply must befall them. Too beautiful to live. And not just physically beautiful. Ezra, Nails, Harri and Justy are possessed of beautiful minds, or at the very least pretty minds. They converse in well-crafted sentences. They fizz with wit and intelligence. They are, as would be expected of Morrissey, quite Wildean characters. In fact, there is something quite theatrical in the way the dialogue is delivered, ranging from pithy put-downs and playful retorts to lengthy, and often raging, soliloquys.

This is an angry book. Death is never glorious; it is always tawdry and revolting. Age doesn’t bring wisdom, only physical dilapidation, indignity and a sense of missed opportunity. The meat industry takes a beating, as does the royal family and the political elite.

And this is where the book becomes frustrating and fascinating in equal measure. There are times when Morrissey intrudes on the narrative. In fact, intrudes is too timid a word. Morrissey boots down the door of the narrative, storms in shouting and waving his fist, turning over furniture and generally causing mayhem. It’s as if he’s turned-up drunk and angry at a performance of his own play, roaring from the stalls to paraphrase Lucky Lisp. Although there were times I thought, Oh, Morrissey, I really wish you wouldn’t, I have to admit it was just as often enthralling. I can’t imagine Morrissey leafing through a novel-writing instruction manual. Or I can imagine him leafing through a novel-writing instruction manual and saying, “Why should I?” Morrissey has never played by the rules, so why should we expect him to show-not-tell, for example.

If List of the Lost obeys any instruction it is this, from Oscar Wilde: “An educated person’s ideas of Art are drawn naturally from what Art has been, whereas the new work of art is beautiful by being what Art has never been; and to measure it by the standard of the past is to measure it by a standard on the rejection of which its real perfection depends.”

List of the Lost is without doubt something that “has never been” before. The writing is dense but, on the whole, flowing; and there are passages of quite dazzling prose punctuated by moments of poetry, with almost beatnik rhymes dropped into the proceedings. The mood is dark. At times the book feels like a non-genre horror novel, reminding me in that respect of Glen Duncan’s Weathercock. There is a pervading sense of doom, a sense that nothing good can last. But there are lighter moments, ironically from the washed-up Rims, the coach, whose vigorous sarcasm had me laughing out loud.

This is a flawed and idiosyncratic book. It certainly isn’t an easy read. But I can’t remember the last time I read a novel and didn’t quite know what to make of it. It really is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. For that, thank you Morrissey.

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