n TO A book-launch bash the other evening, ostensibly to celebrate the publication of Richard Rayner's confessions of his misspent youth, The Blue Suit (see review, page 34). In fact I was there to catch up with the man himself, who happens to be an old friend - though one who's rather difficult to track down since he scuttled off to Los Angeles. Much attention has been paid to the book in the nation's literary pages, by reviewers who cannot make up their minds as to whether Rayner is telling the truth about his criminal exploits - which include an injudicious amount of book theft while at university (not an altogether unusual activity if you think back to your student days). Indeed, many people have sidled up to me and asked whether he really did all those things. My usual response is that of Pontius Pilate's - a diffident shrug followed by "what is truth?"; a question for which, like Jesting Pilate, I do not wait for an answer. I can tell you though, with some certainty, that many of his exploits in his first book, LA Without a Map, are true. I know this because they happened to me, and also to several other of our mutual friends. This is no cause for consternation, however; they are still usable, from a different perspective, and will no doubt figure in many more novels from these people. Because, as any writer will tell you, whatever he writes is all true. It may not have happened quite like he tells you, it may not have happened in the sequence that he tells you, it may not have happened quite so much, or quite so humorously, or quite so sadly. But, my point is that the act of writing it makes it "true". As a carpenter can make a table "true".
n AND so once more it is that time of year when the Turner Prize entrants are announced to howls of outrage from the older art critics, and tumultuous indifference from the population at large. It is becoming very hard to shock people any more. Not even Mona Hatoum shoving a camera up her bum and displaying the video of her andouillettes raises much more than a yawn, fragrant though she no doubt is. After all, many people undergo this minor indignity during a health check-up. It's not a very aesthetic experience, I can tell you, but it's not much to write home about either. Then there's Mark Wallinger, who has bought a racehorse, and designated it a work of art. His reasoning goes as follows: "I am an artist. And this is a work of art because I say it is." Well, Mr Wallinger, there is only one correct response to the first sentence of that statement and that is: "We'll be the judge of that." When next you feel the urge to speak so illogically, please print my phrase on a piece of paper, staple it to your forehead, and get on with your proper job, which is painting. A job at which, incidentally, you show some mastery.
n ON second thoughts, there may be something to this artistic gig. I have just decided that I am an artist. And that this column is a work of art because I say it is. Readers will therefore send me a cheque for 500 guineas for the aesthetic pleasure of reading it.