John Sutherland: A writer with a love of boxing, booze and broads

Share

Norman Mailer was a New Yorker all his writing life. None the less, one of the projects of that life was to slough off the skin of the Little Jewish Boy from Brooklyn.

He entered Harvard and graduated just in time to enlist. Rifleman Mailer saw enough action in the Pacific to furnish raw material for The Naked and the Dead (1948). In it Mailer daringly reproduced the actual language of soldiers. The Anglo-Saxon world was not ready for Anglo-Saxonism, and Mailer compromised with the three-letter word "fug". It provoked the wisecrack (usually attributed to Dorothy Parker): "So you're the young man who can't spell 'fuck'."

Mailer's next two novels, Barbary Shore (1951) and The Deer Park (1955), were epic flops. He gleefully reproduced the reviewers' hatchetry in a full-page advertisement in The Village Voice.

In Advertisements for Myself (1959), Mailer confessed: "I have been running for President these last ten years in the privacy of my mind." He would, in fact, hitch his wagon to the starry John F Kennedy. It was the Irishness in JFK that he particularly relished. Mailer himself affected an Irish persona at this period and three Hibernian features particularly attracted him: the love of boxing, booze and broads.

Mailer put on the gloves himself – though he later admitted that he incurred more brain damage from drink. He married enough wives (six), raised enough children (nine), and had enough grandchildren (10) round his knees to populate the Isle of Innisfree.

Mailer ran for Mayor of New York. He pioneered "New Journalism" before anyone had a name for it and used it to combat Nixon and Vietnam. In The Prisoner of Sex, Mailer took up the cudgels in the early 1970s against the most formidable orthodoxy of the time, feminism.

Only one thing seemed to give Mailer a writing block: the unprecedented million-dollar advance he received for the work that eventually appeared as Ancient Evenings (1983). Mailer himself preferred the Mickey Spillane-inspired thriller, Tough Guys Don't Dance, which he churned out in two months.

John Sutherland is the ex-chairman of the Man Booker Prize

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week