Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

ANIMAL FARM II: This Time It’s Jewish!

I’ve never much liked Yann Martel (right), it has to be said. Not sure why. It’s certainly nothing to do with the allegations that he plagiarised whole chunks of THE LIFE OF PI. Possibly it’s the precious irrelevance of the floating zoo.
  It’s always nice to have your prejudices confirmed, isn’t it? Martel’s latest novel, the follow-up to the floating zoo story, is (koff) an allegory about the Holocaust for which he’s being paid three million dollars. Quoth the New York Times:
It relates the story of an encounter between a famous writer and a taxidermist who is writing a play that features dialogue between a donkey and a monkey, both imprinted on a shirt.
  “I’ve noticed over the years of reading books on the Holocaust and seeing movies that it’s always represented in the same way, which is historical or social realism,” Mr. Martel, 46, said in a telephone interview from his home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “I was thinking that it was interesting that you don’t have many imaginative takes on it like George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM and its take on Stalinism.”
  Okay, but can I stop you right there squire? One: you’re no George Orwell. Two, the murder of six million-plus people in an industrialised death machine doesn’t need ‘imaginative takes’. Three, you don’t have a lot of ‘imaginative takes’ on Stalinism, do you? Four, what, if anything, is your ‘imaginative take’ on the Holocaust designed to achieve, exactly?
  Mind you, shallow bastard that I am, that’s not the most irritating aspect of the NYT’s report. Apparently Martel is being paid a cool three million dollars for the donkey-monkey classic. Is he happy?
  Mr. Martel also declined to discuss his advance, but said, “Frankly, with all the years it took to write this book, if you amortize it out, it’s not as much as one would like it to be.”
  Given that the floating zoo won the Booker seven years ago, we can presume the donkey-monkey opus took roughly eight years to write. Which works out at about roughly €370,000 per year, when you ‘amortize it out’.
  Now, I know the dollar has seen better days, but still – nearly four hundred grand a year to write some wankery allegorical bullshit, during a recession when people’s homes are being repossessed at an unprecedented rate, and the asshole still isn’t happy?
  If at some point in the far future you stop and look around and scratch your head and say, ‘Hey, whatever happened to literary fiction? Some of it was actually okay’, just remember the moron with the donkey-monkey dialogues who wasn’t happy with a three million dollar advance he wouldn’t be able to pay back in four lifetimes of trying.


Gerard Brennan said...

Jeez, don't beat about the bush, Dec. Say what you mean!

Who's his publisher, by the way? I want to pitch a book wherein a hedgehog discourses with an acorn over the aul Weapons of Mass Destruction business. They're bound to jump at it.



seanag said...

I see your point, Declan, but I think I'll read it before I jump on the band wagon. He's full of himself, yes, but that's a writerly sort of weakness, I notice--bad writers and good both fall prey to it from time to time. And no one ever thinks they earn enough,now do they?

I did like Life of Pi, by the way, so he may be more my cup of tea than yours. This one sounds a little hard to pull off, it's true.

Stuart Neville said...

How many books would his publisher have to sell to make back $3M? Not that I'm complaining. If he can get it, I say good luck to him.

As for less literal representations of the Holocaust in fiction, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Art Spiegelman's classic, Maus.

seanag said...

Stuart, Maus is a good example of a book that, described ahead of time, would have been deemed 'unpromising', to say the least.

John McFetridge said...

Saskatoon is a nice little city, by the way.

And I really have nothing to say about Yann Martel, but the word "precious" seems at the tip of my tongue....

seanag said...

I dunno--that tiger didn't seem all that precious to me...

John McFetridge said...

Of course, in Canada Yann Martel suffered from serious overexposure.

Including stuff like this:

where he sends books to the Prime Minister.

seanag said...

My computer is acting a bit dodgy right now, John, so I couldn't access that link, but as a bookseller I do understand about overexposure. Sometimes I do have to thank being in a book group to make me reconsider things that are suspect due to over-popularity. Sometimes I'm right in my prejudices, but often I'm wrong. I do feel that this was one of those latter times. I know about the whole plagiarism controversy. I doubt somehow that the books are very much alike, whatever the similarity of the initial premise.

Declan Burke said...

To be honest, Seanag, my problem with Martel is that sniffy attitude to $3 million for a book. I mean, take a step back from it, and bear in mind that I think books are the most wonderful things ever, excluding baby daughters; and say, "Three million dollars for writing a book." It's actually obscene. I don't care how good a writer Martel is or isn't; no one is worth three million per book.

Cheers, Dec

seanag said...

Well, I totally agree with you. However, books must be separated from their authors occasionally, and The Life of Pi is, in my opinion, a good book. Worth writing, whatever the market says about it. I didn't read it because of what he made on it. And I don't know that what the press says is the total story on what Martel meant by his comment.

You're right--it's not the right price tag for any book, but seeing as some actors and athletes are also paid in similarly totally unrealistic terms, I think it's just the nature of the world right now. He shouldn't belittle the amount though, it's true.

Declan Burke said...

Anyone who isn't happy with three million samolians for writing a book is a twat. End of story. I'd like to see how well he'd do on a building site, the muppet ...

Cheers, Dec