One-Minute Book Reviews

June 10, 2009

Norman Mailer’s Overrated ‘The Naked and the Dead’ — An Admirable Fake?

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:58 pm
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It’s perversely satisfying to learn that a great critic dislikes a book that you thought you alone didn’t enjoy. In my life an example involves The Naked and the Dead, the 1948 World War II novel that grew out of Norman Mailer’s experiences as a rifleman on Luzon and made his reputation while he was in his 20s. For years I’ve considered this book one of the most overrated of the 20th century and far inferior to war novels often mentioned in the same breath, including All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms. Chief among its problems is that it tells the stories of a variety of soldiers without making any of them uniquely memorable.

It’s always seemed to me that The Naked and the Dead might have had less praise if Mailer had been 30 years older when he wrote it and if the novel had not come out a few years after World War II, when critics could compare it to relatively few books about the conflict. So I was heartened to find that Gore Vidal — one of the great literary critics of our time — years ago had a similar response that I had missed. Vidal wrote in a 1960 essay in the Nation, reprinted in Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays 1952–1972 (Random House, 1972):

“My first reaction to The Naked and the Dead was: it’s a fake. A clever, talented, admirably executed fake. I have not changed my opinion of the book since, though I have considerably changed my opinion of Mailer, as he himself as changed. Now I confess I have never read all of The Naked and the Dead. I do recall a fine description of soldiers carrying a dying man down a mountain (done almost as well as the same scene in Malraux’s earlier work). Yet every time I got going in the narrative I would find myself stopped cold by a set of made-up, predictable characters taken not from life but from the same novels all of us had read, and informed by a naïveté which was at its worst when Mailer went into his Time-Machine and wrote those passages which resemble nothing so much as smudged carbon copies of a Dos Passos work.”

Wouldn’t you love to know what Vidal said when he learned that Mailer posthumously won the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award for for The Castle in the Forest?

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 15, 2008

Was Norman Mailer’s Biography of Marilyn Monroe ‘A Labor of Lust’?

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 am
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Norman Mailer wrote a full-page letter to the New York Times Book Review to protest the editor’s decision to assign his novel Harlot’s Ghost to the critic John Simon, Gail Pool recalls in Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America (University of Missouri Press, 170 pp., $19.95, paperback). The novelist said that Simon wasn’t a fair choice partly because he had derided Mailer’s Marilyn: A Biography as “a labor of lust … a new genre called transcendental masturbation or metaphysical wet dreaming … a grisly roller-coaster ride along a biceps gone berserk.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

 

November 28, 2007

Read All the Passages Shortlisted for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award Here

Just found a link to all the passages shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the U.K-based Literary Review, won Tuesday by Norman Mailer‘s The Castle in the Forest, which defeated books by Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and others. The Guardian (formerly the Manchester Guardian) has them here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2217735,00.htm

That link will take you to them, but if it doesn’t work for you, just Google “Guardian + Bad Sex Awaard Shortlisted Passages.” Still haven’t found a YouTube upload of the reading of the offending lines that preceded the announcement of the winner. The finalists included Gary Shteyngart‘s Absurdistan, shown here.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 27, 2007

Norman Mailer Wins 2007 Bad Sex Award for ‘The Castle in the Forest’

[This post has been updated. A link to the bad-sex scene that won appears at the end of the post.]

The late Norman Mailer has won the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the U.K.-based Literary Review for his novel The Castle in the Forest www.randomhouse.com, beating Ali Smith, David Thewlis and other finalists. I can’t get the direct link to the BBC post on the award to work from One-Minute Book Reviews. (The URL is news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7115451/.) But you can find the BBC post by Googling its headline, “Late Mailer wins ‘bad sex’ award.” (Sounds like he didn’t mail his application on time, doesn’t it?) You may also want to read the post just before this one on One-Minute Book Reviews, which has the shortlist for the Bad Sex Award and a link to a few lines from Smith’s bad writing on sex.

Update at 7:20 p.m., Eastern Time: Hooray! Just got this link from impatientreaderdotcom (see the comments section) to the lines by Mailer that won the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. (The winning passage was supposed to have been read aloud by an actress before the announcement. Anybody have a link to a YouTube or other video clip of the reading?) The following link provided by impatientreaderdotcom may look “off” but will take you right to a priceless passage from Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest that begins: “His mouth lathered with her sap …” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7115451.stm

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

 

November 23, 2007

Ian McEwan Makes Longlist for Bad Sex in Fiction Award As Expected, Along With Norman Mailer and Jeanette Winterson

Read the list of the nominees for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award and the lines that may have qualified On Chesil Beach for it

By Janice Harayda

Call me Nostradamus.

Back in August, when a lot of people couldn’t stop praising Ian McEwan’s overrated On Chesil Beach, I wrote that “McEwan aggressively courts a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review” with the novel www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/. I raised the possibility of the Bad Sex Award again when McEwan made the shortlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction (“Does Ian McEwan Deserve the Man Booker Prize or a Bad Sex Award for Writing Like This? You Be the Judge”) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/.

The Literary Review has just announced the longlist for the 2007 Bad Sex Award, meant to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description … and to discourage it” in modern literary novels (not pornograhy or erotica). And who’s on it? McEwan, along with Norman Mailer, Jeanette Winterson and others. Here’s the longlist:

Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

Richard Milward’s Apples

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy

Maria Peura’s At the Edge of Light

James Delingpole’s Coward on the Beach

David Thewlis’s The Late Hector Kipling

Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest

Quim Monzo’s The Enormity of the Tragedy

Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan

Christopher Rush’s Will

Claire Clark’s The Nature of Monsters

Nobody seems yet to have a list of the passages that won their authors a spot on the longlist for the award, the winner of which will be named on Nov. 27. But these lines from On Chesil Beach (Doubleday/Nan Talese, $22) quoted in my August 10 post, should have qualified McEwan easily (page 24 in the first U.S. edition):

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

Thanks to the Nov. 23 Literary Saloon www.complete-review.com/saloon/ for a link to a post on the Bookseller www.thebookseller.com that had the list. When is the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk going to post the qualifying passages?

By the way, you can’t use the “Search Inside This Book” tool on Amazon www.amazon.com to find those lines from On Chesil Beach that I quoted, because the people at Doubleday/Nan Talese haven’t enabled it for the book. Those spoilsports.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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