CAPE £17.99 £16.50 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897
The Religion by Tim Willocks
Slake my lust, wench!
Sunday 13 August 2006
Tim Willocks's new novel is set during the first great siege of Malta, when for three months in 1565 a garrison of Knights Hospitaller from the Order of St John held the island against the overwhelming might of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Surfing the consequent tide of blood, shit, piss, vomit and severed limbs comes Willocks's hero, Matthias Tannhauser, a German adventurer raised by Muslims whose knowledge of the enemy is as valuable to the besieged Hospitallers as it is to Carla, a Maltese noblewoman determined to return to the island and retrieve her bastard child. Also bound for Malta is Ludovico Ludovici, fanatical Inquisitor, sworn enemy of Tannhauser and the father of Carla's son. So much for the trailer. In the ensuing battle, you can almost hear the gravelly voiceover saying that each person's loyalties to Gaard and Mayun will be tested... to the limit.
Willocks had been working in Hollywood for nearly ten years before he wrote The Religion, and by golly, does it show: every brick in this edifice of psychopathic dismemberment-porn and woolly theological speculation bears the unmistakable stamp of studio thinking. Cumbersome catchphrase dialogue? Check. Owlish pondering over whether the Divine is "the creation of men alone"? Check. Walk-on part for a token black slave at the end? Yup, it's all there, and interleaved with enough torture, bloodletting, weapon specifications, misogyny, racism and bed-hopping to keep the black-T-shirt-and-body-odour brigade happily twitching well into the summer.
Connoisseurs of bad sex in fiction will love The Religion, a book that never lets the beacon of its hero's gigantic todger slip below the horizon for more than a few pages. Tannhauser is the kind of man who has to "shift in the saddle to give his member room", and he is periodically gripped with a farcical bemusement at the sight of "his fast-engorging privities". At one point he is even "afflicted... by a burgeoning tumescence that nothing in Creation could forfend"; and if this sounds like the kind of thing that sends lesser men scurrying to their doctors, spare a thought for Ludovico, whose "yard... pants and strains like a hell dog on a gossamer leash". The girls, predictably, love it. Carla conceals a longing to "moan in the night beneath Tannhauser's brawn", while with her friend Amparo Tannhauser enjoys a tumble worthy of the great Ken Follett (whose novels saw erotic congress as a period of quasi-geometric interaction between "his prick" and something called "her triangle"). Here, Tannhauser "guides the tip of his organ between the folds of her matrix", a process referred to passim by Willocks as "slaking one's lust".
That's the Bad Sex Award in the bag. Unfortunately, The Religion waltzes off with the Bad Violence Award as well. Barely a chapter goes by without someone "loudly befouling themselves" before having their face cleaved in two, their arms lopped off, their tongue cut out, being disembowelled, vomiting, pleading, weeping, pissing or some novel combination of two or more. At such points Willocks seems torn between the mathematical pleasure of explaining exactly who's doing what to whom and the sheer hell-yeah that the whole thing engenders in him, so you end up with such sentences as "he vomited a torrent of gall and phlegm in the dying man's screaming face", at which even a seasoned practitioner like Bret Easton Ellis might turn up his immaculately exfoliated nose.
When not slaking his lusts, Willocks contents himself with mounting an assault on the English language that puts the Ottoman hordes to shame. The narrative voice in The Religion is prevailingly that of the pulp historical romance - babes are "given suck", people wave "damask blades", women "sashay", men "swive" - but it can occasionally rise to the kind of Basic English that Kingsley Amis used to write as a joke, especially when speaking of the great imponderables of manhood and existence. "This was what it was to be a man," intones Willocks, "this, and not some thing other than this." No epic, of course, would be complete without a nod to the Iliad, but the reference to "the wine-blue sea" rather messes the nest for that particular parallel.
The Religion is almost certain to be filmed, and barring a screenwriting miracle the best thing to be said for it will be that it's quicker than reading the book. After ploughing through 600 pages of this stuff one actually finds oneself identifying with Tannhauser, who, sloping back from the fray, sums up book and battle both. "One would," he says disconsolately, "have thought such suffering beyond the design of men."
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 2 President Obama comments on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
Star Wars: New action dolls launched on Force Friday ahead of The Force Awakens release
First Look at Bryan Cranston transformed into LBJ for HBO’s ‘All the Way’ film
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Jamie’s Sugar Rush, TV review: Defeated by school dinners, Oliver takes on a new enemy
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 200,000 back our campaign
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up