I knew something was up from the moment that the bookstore clerk wished me 'Good Luck' as I walked out with my purchase. Further warning signs kept coming up from there on. The reviews calling it an "unpolished turd" The Buzzfeed-esque articles showcasing the "worst lines" not even mentioning the infamous "bulbous salutation" (which sounds somewhat like a Masonic greeting)
But nothing could ever truly prepare me for actually reading 'List of the Lost.'
First, let me make one thing clear. I love Morrissey. I love his music. I love his witty, insightful lyrics, giving lightning-like vignettes into love, life, death and losing your bag in Newport Pagnell. I find it in my heart to forgive nearly all the horrendous and tactless things he says. Even this book, in time. To put it simply, being a Morrissey fan is not something you take lightly. It's a bit like being in a cult, only with more middle-aged men with quiffs.
But I can't defend this, not this.
Compared to 2013's 'Autobiography' which ran to a behemoth 480 pages, big enough to squash a field-mouse if dropped from a sufficient height (something neither I or Morrissey support) 'List of the Lost' only lasts for a scant 118 pages, in a fairly large font at that (not even large enough to inconvenience a field-gnat probably) On this first appearance alone, how can such a slim volume attract such near-universal derision?
Easily, is the answer. Despite its deceptively small size, I have never known such a small book to feel so long. It makes 'Das Kapital' feel like 'Topsy and Tim'. 'War and Peace' like 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.'
The primary reason for this, above all others, is Morrissey's, let us say, idiosyncratic writing style. Using a dozen words when only one will do, this reader got the impression that Morrissey seemed to be writing to impress some sixth-form English teacher who had slighted him in a previous life. The trouble is, Morrissey's writing doesn't seem to have improved much from this hypothetical sixth-form period. There was a sentence near the very end of the book that seemed to sum this up for me.
"All quiet, all still in this decent and pleasant atmosphere of slumber and repose, where lush houses of beddy-bye shut-eye snoozled in sleepland; a smiling sleep of dreamland."
What does this mean? What does this actually mean? Really? Elaborate with examples please, ask the examiner if you require any more paper. There is a very good reason authors don't write in this style Morrissey, unless of course you're counting the time that someone slipped Enid Blyton several tabs of acid in her evening Ovaltine.
Of course, if he's not just making up words, he's bombarding you with them to the point whether you wonder you're reading a medical textbook instead.
"The inscrutable glacial coldness of the mega-gnarly cave dweller had brought to mind the snot-nosed wretch that the boys had left to the woods. But this could not be irrelevant coincidence-or, to the esoteric world, not coincidence at all."
'Autobiography' worked because Morrissey's bitter wit and flowery language helped to enliven and enrich the happenings of his own life. When this is crammed into a fictional narrative, all 'List of the Lost' serves to do is act as proof for decades of Morrissey parodyists, proving all along what they were saying, that his writing is pompous, indeciphrable, and most criminal of all, dull.
If you can bother to excavate beneath this mess of description, 'List of the Lost' does actually have a plot, though a frustratingly vague one at that. Put as simply as I can muster, Lost revolves around four all-American boys (Ezra, Nails, Harri & Justy) who run for the half-mile relay team (an event which doesn't actually exist) for a prestigious Boston college in the mid 70's. When they're not screwing girls (none of which seem to have any personality or character whatsoever) or pouting homoeroticaly, they seem to spend most of their time speaking in a manner which I'm fairly sure wasn't common for American college students circa 1975.
"Ah yes! Sorry! God forbid a leg touches another leg and the entire foundation of rigid sexual mires crash to shuddering, shamed failure!"
Anyway, they somehow end up killing a homeless man they find in the woods for no particular reason (though not before said hobo goes on a incomprehensible five page rant) whereupon all manner of shit goes down over the remaining 70 or 80 pages. It probably doesn't reflect too well on Morrissey's literary prowess that I had to read several other reviews and synopses before realising that the litany of death and disaster that follows the tramp-icide is all meant to be interconnected.
In fact, the plot takes a back-seat so often to the lengthy and intolerable ramblings, I have to wonder if this book originally started life as a stream-of-conscious fever-dream which Morrissey ended up smushing a half-baked idea for a short story into in order to please his publishers. At least four or five pages are dedicated to talking about the American TV Western 'Bonanza.' Another page seems to delight in telling us all about supposed gay trysts Winston Churchill and famed song-writer Ivor Novello had during the war, only to abandon this a page later when he finds time to tell us what a shame it was that Alan Turing was persecuted so for his homosexuality. Mixed messages is something of a understatement.
All the Morrissey bugbears come under attack here. The monarchy. The meat industry. Margaret Thatcher (whose mention is so poorly shoehorned in as to be painful) All of these have been addressed in much better songs than this disagreeable tumour of a text.
In short, do not buy this book. Do not accept this book as a gift. Do not ponder reading this book. Do not even get it purely for the shock value, to revel in something in so goddamn unenjoyable. Even in that regard you will be disappointed.
Maybe, just maybe, if you had a very talented editor, you could ring a decent short story out of this. But I think the rot has gone too far. It all reminds me of an exchange between two great heavyweights of literature. William Faulkner once said of Hemingway's work that "It has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
Hemingway’s response was: ‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?’
And that is precisely is what Morrissey has failed to grasp.