Dandy in the Underworld, By Sebastian Horsley
Sunday 13 July 2008
"If you can't brag about doing something well," says Sebastian Horsley, "brag about doing it badly. At any rate, brag." In this memoir he takes his own advice to heart. He brags about failing his French O-level, getting kicked out of art college, covering himself in his own excrement, being a useless painter, drinking himself into insensibility, getting buggered by the celebrity criminal Jimmy Boyle, becoming a crack addict, and having sex with hundreds of prostitutes and an inflatable doll. He recounts his worst humilations with a relish that makes Rousseau's Confessions seem the epitome of coyness. You certainly can't fault the book for lack of incident. The climax, in which Horsley's vanity and masochism converge, is when he has himself crucified in Manila.
Dandy in the Underworld is admittedly an unusual take on the "misery memoir" – boastful rather than self-pitying – and some reviewers raved when it first came out. I can only assume that they find narcissistic personality disorder more interesting than I do.
What lets it down, fatally, is the style. As a self-professed dandy, Horsley seems to think he has to come across like Oscar Wilde, and he simply lacks the equipment to do so. His aphorisms and paradoxes, of which there at least 10 a page, come over as contrived and somewhat ill-natured, rather than witty ("Some people, like terrorists and pregnant women, should always be shunned"). This isn't to say there are no good lines in the book, but they are cribbed, without attribution, from sources as diverse as Dr Johnson, Winston Churchill and Wendy Cope.
Horsley claims he only writes in order to get his knob sucked. A good job, then, that producing something of literary merit formed no part of his motivation.
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