And the word was with Norman

Norman Mailer in Conversation Curzon, Shaftesbury Avenue, London

Each and every one of us is seeking out a saviour. Some look for him in churches, others in converted cinemas. On Monday night, the designated spot was the Curzon, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Things had started promisingly enough: the audience had entered the auditorium to a blast from a gospel choir, and Melvyn Bragg, interceding toothsomely on our behalf with Stormin' Norman Mailer, that Grand Old Pugilist of American Letters, had reminded us of his interviewee's impeccable credentials: "You were hoping to bring about a revolution in people's consciousness when you started writing," said Melvyn. "But what exactly drove you to write?"

The word, when it came, was endearingly human. "It used to be a desire to meet beautiful women," said Norman, knocking over the microphone for the second time, "but in the last few years I've paid the price for being happily married. I've turned to blubber." He clearly wasn't referring to his intellect.

Mailer had set things going with a couple of readings at the lectern, a mock-obituary of himself in which Truman Capote called him "so butch", and "After Death Comes Limbo". The voice sounded 100 per cent proof: gravelly, with a gallon of phlegm washing around in the throat. Five feet four, stocky as a bull, and with grizzled grey curls, Mailer was wearing the same clothes he'd worn six years ago at the UK launch of Harlot's Ghost - grey flannels, blue blazer with twinkling brass buttons - a sometime street-fighter now turned bizarrely preppy. There was just one thing new: a kipper tie in a dazzling aquamarine.

All that death and afterlife stuff was intended to turn our minds towards Mailer's new book, The Gospel According to the Son, a re-telling of the New Testament tale. Mailer recognised that this was a very un-Mailerish sort of subject. "It's the sort of book I wouldn't have looked at 40 years ago." He'd wanted to publish it anonymously, he said, but the American publishers had stamped on that idea.

Some critics have wondered whether he knew enough to re-write the gospels. Mailer's touching description of his own unpreparedness was as cunning as it was bizarre: "Some books you come to, knowing little," he said, "with a sense of innocence." Still, whether or not innocence actually means ignorance, Norman hadn't held back. He knew the original's limitations like the inside of his fist. "It's a classic," he said, "but not always well written. It's a great story waiting to be told."

So Norman told it, although it had taken him a little time to get the style right, toning it down, tuning it up...

But why in heaven's name, Bragg asked, hadn't he dug into Jesus like he dug into Marilyn Monroe or Muhammad Ali all those years ago?

All of a sudden, Norman turned Messianic. "I wanted to tell the story, I wanted to reach people," he said. "I wanted to point out the compatibility between Christ and Marx, to re-emphasise the notion of caring. I believe in karma, an afterlife. I believe that we pay for our sins. I'm talking about Judaeo-Christian socialism here..."

As Norman walked up the side aisle to sign a few books, the music came surging again. This time it was the "Hallelujah Chorus".

Michael Glover

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

    £28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

    £22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

    £13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

    £20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

    Day In a Page

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border