The Cosmic Follies, by Simon Louvish

Nine wackos in total disintegration
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The Independent Culture

There is a crazy conceit at the centre of this narrative, if there is any real narrative at all. Mo Smith, Simon Louvish's hobo-hero in his novel, is host to multiple personalities who not only cross gender, skin colour and religion; they also jump time.

There is a crazy conceit at the centre of this narrative, if there is any real narrative at all. Mo Smith, Simon Louvish's hobo-hero in his novel, is host to multiple personalities who not only cross gender, skin colour and religion; they also jump time.

Mo is also Arnold, a Wasp author who lives under Smith's Adam's apple. Arnold shares body-space with Ann, a hermit who sleeps behind Mo's eyes. Muhammed Ibn Battuta is a medieval traveller who moves around Mo's bloodstream. In the right lung is Jesse, a first-century Essene; in the left, Lincoln Korombane, an exiled pan-African activist. Between the shoulder blades lives Pharaoh Merenptah, son of Rameses II, who gets into Mo after flipping out of his Luxor tomb. Mordecai, a medieval Jewish doctor, free-floats; whereas Beatrice, a dominatrix, lodges in Mo's stomach. Jaime, the gay prostitute, inhabits the tramp's colon, crawling out to trade ass on the Manhattan streets. This is not Six Degrees of Separation but nine wackos in total disintegration.

So far, so meschuggah. Mo Smith is Moses, is Adam, is Everyman/Woman. He is you. He is me. He's black and he's also God.

Louvish creates a protean monster to jerk the reader into a stinking hell where the only saviour is Caroline, a black psychiatrist intrigued by Mo. For a moment, Louvish offers us a "sane" character, and her presence teases us with a glimmer of linear narrative.

But he smashes this expectation fast by giving Caroline leukaemia. Her imminent death shifts her role from protagonist to victim. Mo invites his sick shrink to enter his body and, on a trip to Luxor, she falls for Pharaoh Merenptah - suggesting that the doctor is, literally, to become part of the patient's multiple-personality syndrome.

As well as this bunch of philosophers, whores and politicos, there is is Benny, an Israeli peace activist; and Salim, his Palestinian friend who drank Arafat's urine in the desert. After 11 September, Salim is rounded up as a terrorist suspect.

Louvish's prose is high on the hyperactive monologue. It lurches from Kabbalah to rap and ends in hieroglyphics. This anarchic style is an hallucinogenic exploration of life on the New York streets. Underneath its wild, scatalogical exterior is a serious attempt to show how we schlep history around with us, even in our profound ignorance.

Louvish, a Scot who lived in Israel as a young man, is an atheist left-wing Jew whose writing absorbs the fall-out between life in the Middle East and the West. His book's style is so active, so fast, so intellectually stimulating that, despite its meanderings, there is a fearful symmetry and a way of seeing the world which makes you dread to sleep. Yes, Louvish brings in too many characters, especially towards the end. Yes, he sometimes seems to have lost his own plotless plot. But The Cosmic Follies is a terrific read by a fascinating writer.



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