Books: All hail a new literary genre! And guess what, it's strangely familiar
White City Blue by Tim Lott Viking pounds 15.99
Sunday 02 May 1999
With Tim Lott's competent and respectful homage, Hornby at last seems to have given birth to the genre which has for so long been threatening to arrive. The Fielding-spawned Fat Women With No Dignity school of writing now has a sibling. Bloke Lit has arrived.
Lott's novel, which could easily be called Does My Cock Look Small In This?, deals enthusiastically with all the failings, immaturities and nastinesses which seem to plague thirtysomething men in contemporary British literature, with the central character's final epiphany almost serving as a manifesto for this nascent genre. Abandoned by his girlfriend and his mates, Frankie Blue stares into the mirror and says of himself, "Sometimes I think I'm superman, sometimes I think I'm nothing. But I'm neither. I'm just a bloke, among millions of other blokes." This line, which verges on self-parody, is the male literary equivalent of weighing yourself at the end of the day. In the universe of Bloke Lit, we are all just blokes - and we need to be reminded of that fact.
With the Git Lit of John King and Irvine Welsh (the "I'm just a sociopathic bastard among millions of other sociopathic bastards" school) perhaps now beginning to go out of fashion, a trend towards Bloke Lit will come as a relief to those who prefer to believe that men aren't all actively nasty, but are simply terminally childish up to the age of about 40.
Tim Lott's novel revolves around a group of four friends who finally discover, after 15 years of friendship, that they don't in fact like one another. After a decade and a half of competitiveness, betrayals, unsupportiveness and bickering, the four men touch on the fact that one of them is about to get married, then in the course of an extremely aggressive game of golf and its aftermath, they all go their separate ways.
Although the tone of the book is comic and light, the view of male friendship presented is unremittingly bleak. There is almost nothing to like in any of the men, and one is left more surprised that they managed to stay friends for 15 years than that the four of them ultimately split up.
An odd preachiness hovers over the disintegration of the friendships, with a strangely bland moralism accompanying Frankie Blue's character development as he discovers that, for example, "Lies are so fine, so lovely and harmless, until you get caught out. Then they transform into tiny, vicious, vengeful dragons." Although Lott's novel is slickly put together and perfectly readable, it lacks the emotional depth of his debut, the memoir The Scent of Dried Roses. A laddish superficiality in the narrator's world view prevents any genuine insight from making its way into the text. Everything is a little too direct, with the character who is a burden on the narrator going under the name of Colin Burden, and the female love interest, who is of course more rooted than all the men, being called Veronica Tree. In Lott's narrative style, there is no room for allusion. Everything that is there is there on the surface. The text makes no demands on the reader whatsoever.
However, precisely the same criticisms could be made of High Fidelity, and it never seemed to do Nick Hornby's career much harm. If Bloke Lit flourishes - which I suspect it will - Tim Lott will have little to worry about.
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