BOOK REVIEW / Bamboozled by bodkins: 'The Night' - Terence Stamp: Phoenix House, 14.99

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The Independent Culture
EVERY resting actor nowadays seems to write a book and some of them - Dirk Bogarde, Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, Kirk Douglas, Simon Callow, Antony Sher - do it annoyingly well. Terence Stamp has already written an enjoyable, though overlong, three-part autobiography and now presents this, his first novel. Like his acting, it is naive but strangely compelling.

The plot is simple, hardly even a plot: a day in the life of various characters who, in the evening, meet at a dinner-party. The fascination comes from the characters. Who are these people? They live in a recognisable present-day London - they travel by Tube and pop into Fortnum & Mason - but their thought processes seem to belong to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Narcissism is the prevailing emotion: they are all obsessed with their bodies, their psyches, their digestions. They can't eat a slice of cake without noticing their sugar rush; they all know their 'meridians' and send each other clairvoyants for their birthdays; they live in the 'miracle mile' north of Holland Park because it is 'good soil for witches' and provides the aromatherapists, reflexologists, occultists, astrologers and acupuncturists they need for 'inner growth'. Few of them actually work, except on themselves. One is striving for 'the vital quarter-inch on each calf' while the hero, Zeno, and his daughter Zen are working on their sense of smell, sniffing all the books in his library, starting with the Book of Runes.

Absorbed in themselves as they are, they survey each other with cool affectless eyes. The hostess Fleur, getting into bed with a new lover, 'noted that his member fell into what she categorised as the 'bodkin' type'. One dinner- party guest tells another: 'My prick is as dark and rumpled as the sack my balls hang in. And I came into the world with enough acid in my system for twins - which left my tongue as rough as a cat's' Another character muses in the marital bedroom: 'What he particularly appreciated about his wife's bottom was that, no matter how many hours she pumped away on the Stairmaster, the thin top layer - the subcutaneous tissue - remained spongy. The combination of iron-hard muscle and sapid skin never failed to rouse him.'

Zeno is more of a thinker. When he is not sniffing his bookcases or eating his four almonds to prevent cancer, or savouring the 16 different ingredients of his Ayurvedic toothpaste, he ponders such conundrums as 'Who will prefer the jingle of jade pendants if he once has heard the stone growing in a cliff?' He has theories about everything. Buses always travel in clusters because of 'the law of like kinds that attracts things of a similar nature'. He believes that the sound of boiling water develops the pineal gland and he has cured his addiction to marijuana by boiling a lot of kettles. Apart from all the current theories, there is a rich hinterland of past ones: his wife still insists on keeping their bed at a certain angle in order to harmonise their circadian rhythms with the Earth's electromagnetic field, whereas Zeno 'had long since moved through his bio-rhythmic fixation, but he didn't have the heart to revise their sleeping arrangements again'.

I suspect this is not meant to be funny. Maybe the whole book is not meant to be funny, though I was convulsed throughout. The Night is a weird mixture of almost every gobbledegook one has ever heard - Sixties psychedelia, Seventies psychobabble, Eighties bodybuilding - even a whiff of magic realism, as when Count John McCormack, the Irish tenor, appears on the handrail of Green Park tube station escalator to teach one of the characters about voice projection. Just how much of this sort of thing one could take I'm not sure, but for a brisk 228 pages I found it as exhilarating and entertaining as a visit to the circus.