A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: Given that Damien Mulley and Sinead Gleeson were kind enough to link to this post, and thus generated a few comments on our behalf, the Grand Vizier has ordered that we re-post the piece to save ourselves the grief of having to scroll down half the page in order to respond. Scrolling down, Jeez … Fairly takes it out of you, doesn’t it?
It was a funny old weekend for Twenty Major (right), even by his usual standards. On Saturday, George Byrne in the Evening Herald (no link) opened his review of Major’s debut novel, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK, by referring to “the postings of Twenty Major, whose rants and observations on Irish society, life and the world in general are generally acknowledged to be leagues ahead of the barely-literate ‘dear diary’ standards of the medium.” The general gist of a broadly positive review (which name-checks Kinky Friedman and Christopher Brookmyre) runs thusly: “Treading a frequently blurred line between comedy, farce, thriller and social commentary, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK (a very Colin Bateman-esque title that ) does possess an infectious energy […] and a few cracking ideas.”
Also on Saturday, over in the Irish Times (no link; premium content), Colin Murphy opened his review of the novel with something of a damned-with-faint-praise gambit: “THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK by Twenty Major is the worst book I have ever finished.” The very negative review finishes: “The book concludes with an acknowledgments section. The last line, directed at the readers of his blog, is: “Thank you all, you magnificent c***s.” That, really, is all you need to know: either it includes you, or it doesn’t. It is, though, likely to include the twenty-something male sitting across from you on the bus home, who will be chuckling over Twenty’s violent nihilism, toilet truths and use of the word ‘c**t’. He and his mates are going to make this a bestseller.”
On Saturday night, at the Irish Blog Awards, Twenty Major won three awards, chief among them ‘Best Blog’, the third time in a row he has won the award (congratulations to Sinead Gleeson, by the way, another three-in-a-row winner with The Sigla Blog).
On Sunday, the Sunday Times (Irish) Culture section (no link) carried a feature by Kathy Foley, herself a blogger, called ‘Blog roll’. The piece opened with Twenty Major as its hook, Foley segueing from Major’s book deal with Hodder Headline / Hachette into a verdict on the novel: “[I]t’s a tepid, flimsily plotted satire filled with half-cocked gags.” The gist of the article is this: “We have few, if any, counterparts to the American blogging elite, whose online dispatches zing with flair, attitude and insight, not to mention – in some cases – intellectual rigour. We simply don’t produce the vibrant and considered style of blogging that dominates the US scene, where there are compelling blogs on every topic imaginable – from architecture to zoology – each with energetic, articulate writing and comments sections brimming with vitality.”
The first thing to say here is that you could replace ‘blog’ and ‘blogging’ with ‘newspapers / magazines’ and ‘journalism’ in the above quote and it would be just as valid an opinion. The second thing is that Irish blogging is still in its infancy by comparison with America, so like-for-like comparisons are premature if not entirely unfair, particularly given the vast difference in the respective populations.
Thirdly, most non-internet journalists seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that blogs and blogging are intended as replacements, or poor substitutes, for newspapers and journalism. The reality is that the vast majority of blogs come into being to fill a specialist niche not being catered for in the mainstream media (Crime Always Pays to promote Irish crime fiction is a case in point; The Voyage, the well-deserved winner of the ‘Best Specialist Blog’ award on Saturday night, a category in which Crime Always Pays was nominated, is another). Indeed, in another feature in the Sunday Times’ Culture section, reporting on a new Irish music magazine, State, Mick Heaney says, “The growth of the blogosphere has had a huge impact on music publishing: American sites such as Pitchfork Media are as influential as any print equivalent, and are free … State has responded by setting up a complementary website, State.ie, run by the blogger Niall Byrne, aka Nialler9. Whereas the print edition is aimed at older readers, State.ie aims to draw in a new, younger audience.”
A ‘new, younger audience’ … ‘the twenty-something male sitting across from you on the bus home’. There appears to be a generation gap opening up between print / mainstream media and the various incarnations of on-line web presences. It’s almost inevitable that Twenty Major’s novel, springing as it does fully formed from a blog, will suffer a credibility deficit when reviewed in mainstream publications, and not least because it’s a comedy crime caper novel. There are already echoes of the initial reactions to rock ‘n’ roll, when the raw, primal sound of Elvis et al was damned as jungle music made by uppity white trash.
THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK may not be the literary equivalent of the Sun Sessions but it is nonetheless a pioneer in terms of Irish blog-to-shelf publishing. Another Irish blogger, Fiona McPhillips, has her book TRYING TO CONCEIVE published in April. Sean and Keiran Murphy are soon to publish their BOOK OF SWEET THINGS through the Mercier Press. Eoin Purcell, a commissioning editor at Mercier, has also signed up ‘Grandad’ from the Head Rambles blog to write a novel.
The blog-to-shelf route to publishing means, of course, that all these books will arrive on the shelf with an audience already in place. Many members of that audience will in turn blog about their reaction to the books, spreading a virus-like word-of-mouth. As Colin Murphy notes in the Irish Times, Twenty Major’s book will very probably be an Irish best-seller on the strength of its appeal to a young male demographic, most of whom will be web-literate if not necessarily bloggers themselves. Taken to its logical conclusion, this development means that blog-to-shelf books will have no need of the traditional reviews in print publications.
In essence, the current media revolution involves a move away from the traditional pulpit-audience lecture to a more democratic peer-to-peer discussion. In an Irish context, THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK is the latest manifestation of this trend. Is it so surprising, then, that the novel was panned in the print media on the very weekend when Twenty Major’s peers yet again voted him Ireland’s best blogger?
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.