Galley Beggar Press, £9.99

Randall or the Painted Grape, by Jonathan Gibbs - book review: Deadpan YBA satire that sees the bigger picture

 

 

Galley Beggar Press struck gold last year with Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, a Modernist tour de force, which was hailed as one of the finest debuts of recent years and won the Baileys Prize. It would be unfair to expect Jonathan Gibbs, whose first novel, Randall, arrives from the same small publisher, to emulate McBride, although phenomenal success does play a part in his book. Gibbs’s titular hero, or anti-hero, is a fictional Young British Artist who becomes “the most celebrated and reviled artist of the 90s and 00s”.

By the time the novel begins in the 2010s, however, Randall is dead and Vincent, his investment banker friend, has been summoned to New York by Justine, the artist’s widow. Vincent comes across as somebody who wants you to know that he’s on surname terms with artists, as he clocks “a Koons”, “a Tillmans” in Justine’s apartment. Her manner is “impossibly knowing”, “somewhat like flirtatiousness” and there’s a “glancing edge of falseness in her voice”. This awkward language suggests that Gibbs has set his novel in New York without really being equipped to do so. There’s a whiff of wish-fulfilment about Randall.

Then again, the difference between familiarity and intimacy is a theme of the book that Vincent is writing about Randall. In prose that’s free of the self-consciousness of the New York chapters, Vincent describes Randall’s transformation from Goldsmiths College upstart to somebody “about whom everyone from the Prime Minister to the last London cabbie has an opinion”. As witness to the YBAs’ rise, Vincent is a narrator in the Nick Carraway mould, a slippery bridge between worlds, who introduces Randall to banker art collectors.

Gibbs explores art and sex, art and friendship, art and love, but art and money become synonymous in the Britain that’s captured in his novel’s 20-year timespan. In deadpan prose, Gibbs describes Randall’s “Sunshines” series of conceptual self-portraits, which are based on subjects’ excrement, as celebrities and oligarchs clamour to exercise their posteriors for posterity. In New York, the paintings that Justine discovers after Randall’s death depict friends and luminaries in graphic, sexual scenes, so she and Vincent must decide whether to exhibit them.

There’s plenty to admire in this novel but it’s under-edited. Protracted scenes and confusing grammar make it tempting to end by quoting Randall: “Oh why don’t we all just fuck off?” It’s more than an art world satire, though, and Gibbs’s willingness to tackle the same aesthetic questions as his characters is redeeming: “Is there any art in here, or does it just look like art? And is there a difference?”

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all