Books: A week in books

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Anyone who credits the Booker Prize with the power to sprinkle stardust over every book it touches should check the past fortnight's sales figures. Yes, Arundhati Roy did even better than usual after the shortlist announcement. In the second week, Madeleine St John profited from the "Who her?" factor in the press. Down at the foot of the table, though, Mick Jackson's The Underground Man - a brave, strong choice by the panel - shifted 66 and then 81 copies. So much for the fabled oxygen of publicity.

If the media ever bothered to use the Booker as a handy way in to discussions of serious fiction, Mick Jackson and his ilk might corner a touch of the limelight. Instead, the prize acts as a magnet for envy and spite from scribblers whose gift for fiction starts and ends with doctored expenses claims. This deep-dyed Philistinism - as British as BSE - usually skulks in sneering columns. Now, in a paradoxical burst of spleen, the pop presenter Jonathan King has committed an entire novel about the fraudulence of highbrow fiction. The Book** Prize Winner (pounds 10 from the louche tabloid imprint, Blake Publishing) acquired its asterisks when the Booker crew objected to their name on King's cover. Silly of them to take the bait: "He only does it to annoy/ Because he knows it teases".

To call King's yarn an exercise in fourth-form humour would be an insult to most 15-year-olds. This deeply puerile farce concerns a virginal spinster who writes bodice-rippers but then scoops the Booker with a novel she attributes to her "gay, crippled, half-caste" Moroccan lover. Crude, clumsy, childish, it amounts to one long verbal fart aimed at anyone who cares for literature. After all, those saddoes could be watching his showbiz chatter on TV, such as Entertainment USA, instead. That's entertainment?

At least we can enjoy King's delicious howlers. He imagines that a citizen of one state who resides in another is an "ex-patriot" (three times). He thinks that "disinterest" means indifference and refers to "gutteral" consonants, neatly reminding us of where his book belongs.

Underneath this grubby farrago lurks a conviction that literary fiction consists of scams worked on gullible punters by talentless but crafty con-merchants. And King's bog-wall substitute for satire hints at the gut loathing of real art and artists that thrives among the pampered, limo-lounging media elite. This is, of course, the eunuch's ancient hatred of the stud.

King's own creative CV stretches not much further than "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" and the immortal "Chick-A-Boom (Don't Ya Jes Love It)". I suppose he deserves a footnote in pop history as a quondam peddler of duff novelty singles, alongside The Smurfs, Rolf Harris and Joe Dolce. You must remember Joe Dolce: "Shaddap You Face". Precisely.

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