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?”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
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.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world