Morrissey's debut novel List of the Lost was met with mockery but how have other singers fared?

Morrissey's first novel was doomed to a mauling by the critics. David Barnett explores why so many rock stars feel drawn to the form

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The Independent Culture

Morrissey has written his first novel, released yesterday. He was looking for a review and then he got a review… and we can only surmise that, heaven knows, he's miserable now.

The former Smiths frontman's fictional debut List of the Lost is published by Penguin, which released Moz's autobiography (under its Penguin Classics banner, no less) in 2013. But the tale of a 1970s relay-race team cursed by a demon (Chariots of Hellfire, perhaps) hasn't found much critical favour.

Leading the charge was the Guardian's Michael Hann, for whom September spawned a Moz turd. “All those who shepherded it to print should hang their heads in shame,” Hann raged. “It is an unpolished turd of a book, the stale excrement of Morrissey's imagination.”

 

It's fair to say that any musician turning to writing will carry a far higher weight of expectation than any unknown debut novelist, even though writing fiction is a far cry from penning four pithy verses and a chorus.

Some seem to pull it off to critical acclaim. Nick Cave wrote And the Ass Saw the Angel in 1989 and, with a 20-year-gap, The Death of Bunny Munro. His debut earned him Time Out magazine's Book of the Year gong and his follow-up was praised by this very newspaper for “the smoothness of the prose and masterful combination of black comedy and sentiment”.

Others fare less well. Take Madonna – and we're not talking her 1992 coffee-table arsetravaganza, Sex, but her more sedate 2003 children's book The English Roses. The Observer bluntly put its wistful “bid for Englishness” down to “an actress playing at what she can never be: a J K Rowling, an English rose”.

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Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell also tried her hand at children's books with her Ugenia Lavender series, which the Guardian called “quite good fun, actually”, but said that the quality of the prose meant it was doubtful “the likes of Anne Fine or Michael Rosen need fear for their laurels at present”.

Do reviewers view books by musicians with an unduly critical eye? Jonny Geller, a literary agent with Curtis Brown, says: “It's possible they are judged quite harshly. Publishers like to have writers with a previously established audience, which musicians have.

”But books by pop stars don't automatically become bestsellers just because people love their music. There might not be that much cross-over between people who like an artist's music and people who want to read their fiction. Take football – books about the game should be the best-selling books in the country, if you take into account the popularity of the game, but of course that's not the case.“

Pop stars turning to writing isn't anything new. Bob Dylan wrote his post-Beat generation stream-of-consciousness prose experiment, Tarantula, in the Sixties, and it was published in 1971. Leonard Cohen wrote two novels – The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers, but really they pre-dated his music career. And there can be few among us who don't fondly recall Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson's saucy Tom Sharpe-esque literary ventures, Lord Iffy Boatrace (1990) and its sequel, The Missionary Position (1992).

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Louise Wener has had better reviews than the new novel by Morrissey

One of the more successful artists to make the music-to-fiction transition is Louise Wener of the 1990s indie darlings Sleeper; since 2003, she has released a string of highly regarded commercial fiction works including Goodnight, Steve McQueen, The Half-life of Stars, and The Big Blind.

Who's next? Geller hazards a couple of guesses: ”Bruce Springsteen could maybe write something urban and gritty. Perhaps Bono could write a political novel. Kate Bush?“

Given Morrissey's experiences, would they want to? Well, despite the turd-chucking, at the time of writing he is in the top 40 on Amazon and in at No 1 in the Gothic Romance category. As Morrissey opined in ”We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful“: ”It's really laughable…"

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