What do you want to learn about singer, songwriter and provocateur Morrissey? If it’s the circumstances of his birth and upbringing, good luck discovering them in his autobiography.
I cannot decide if this rubbish is intentional: a ridiculous attempt to out-do modernist obscurist James Joyce. Or if the editor at Penguin who oversaw this overblown vanity project is so in awe of Stephen Patrick that she meekly agreed to just tidy up the grammar and send it to print. Because this is a strange, pompous and vainglorious work that grabs and grabs at literary greatness but reads like the sort of horrific verse one might write to a buck-toothed girl in Luxemburg.
There is plenty of great writing here. Individual sentences and turns of phrase glow with wit. The first line is magnificent and there are several instances of repeated internal rhymes that would make fantastic lyrics.
But that is what Morrissey is brilliant at: snarky, witty fatalism summed up in 200 words; guitar solo; chorus repeat and fade. Surrounding these beautiful flights of fancy are stodgy masses of pomp. Instead of narrative drive there is baggy, boring pieces of padding. The book was swathes of text that are full of show but no tell.
I have worked as a copy editor and my first instinct was to grab a pencil and start to cut and shape. There’s loads of gold here, but it’s still all buried in the grubby bedrock. Surely the point of this being published by Penguin is that they can bring a long tradition of taste and tasteful editorial assistance to pull out the best from an author’s work. Especially a first timer like Morrissey?
And it’s a shame, because more than any other popular artists from the 80s, Mr M built a persona fully of witty outrage: the dangerously well read ruffian, the dole queue dandy and working mans club fop, as deadly with his turn of phrase as his friends are with their fists. But so little of that is apparent in the book. Instead you get the obsolete LA ego, puckering media arsehole who has forgotten why people love him, but just naturally assumes they will.
I struggled to start the book. Because it meandered and struggled to get to its point, I skipped around. Where Morrissey is at his best is talking about music: his love letter to the New York Dolls exactly captures what it is to cherish something that everyone around you thinks is obscene. What teenager hasn’t felt that thrill of being a secret society of one; of lifting the needle and playing the record again, again and again? Brilliant.
Perhaps instead of an autobiography, he had written essays on pop music legends he would have written a book that was consistent, marvelous and hideously acidic and bright.
Who is culpable for this bloated egotistical tripe? Weirdly not Morrissey, although I feel he spent a lot of time resisting help, becoming tearfully pedantic over every little change, getting brattish and contrary every time he didn’t get his way.
But surely if Penguin really thought that every thought Morrissey had while typing was good enough to sit in the same list as the Iliad, they should have made sure the book was the very best that they could make. If even I could sit there and make editorial amendments as I read, then they’ve failed. Utterly, embarrassingly failed.
A worst crime is that Penguin then let Morrissey ruin sex, and published his novel. In the press the Charming Man accused reviewers of ad hominen attacks. I can only assume that his name alone shifts enough units that Penguin are happy to print everything he writes. A shame because Penguin is so precious to me that I feel it’s letting one person’s fan crush ruin it.
Yes, there’s something incredible and alluring about Manchester’s romantic yob. But his preciousness pales against that of the orange and white delight that is Penguin.