A headstrong young journalist goes on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling through Europe to find the world’s most enigmatic philosopher Bazlo Criminale is one of Europe’s most legendary living men. A mysterious novelist and thinker known for his extreme elusiveness, the beloved Criminale is a cultural icon of the highest order. Seeking to find the man behind the myth, a London television-news station hires Francis Jay, an enterprising young reporter, to find Criminale. From Vienna to Budapest to the picturesque lakeshores of Italy, Jay journeys across the continent—and even briefly to Brazil—interviewing the man’s biographer, his publisher, and his former lover, all of whom have their own interests at stake. Through literary award dinners and other examples of “culture as spectacle,” Jay must navigate the chaotic world of post–Cold War Europe as he chases the specter of a literary legend.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
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About the Author
Malcolm Bradbury (1932–2000) was a well-known novelist, critic, and academic, as well as founder of the creative writing department at the University of East Anglia. His seven novels include The History Man and Rates of Exchange , which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Bradbury was knighted in 2000 for services to literature and died the same year.
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By Malcolm Bradbury
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Malcolm Bradbury
All rights reserved.
I first met her at the Booker Prize for Fiction ...
As it happened (and most of this did more or less happen), I first met her at the Booker Prize for Fiction. We both turned up at the great autumn prizegiving dinner in the London Guildhall; she was there to tell one kind of story, I was there to tell another. She was an assistant producer on the live television coverage for the BBC's 'Late Show', which for once was going out earlier than usual; I was covering the great event for the What's Happening section of the Serious Sunday newspaper I worked for—which, since the Booker Prize beanfeast fell on a Tuesday, meant that my copy was going out later than usual. And in the event it did not go out at all, for my Serious Sunday, as Serious Sunday newspapers seem to have a way of doing, went bankrupt in the interim.
So she was wrapped up in all the modern technics, the ducts and cabling, the lamps and dollies, the backpacks and betacams, that we need to turn real life into a technological fiction so that we can perceive it as reality again; I had a Biro and a spiral notepad in my pocket. She was red-haired, and clad in low-cut and thong-tied black, as if she were about to attend some erotic funeral; I, because no one at the Serious Sunday had warned me that the Booker is a monkey-suit job, was rigged out in my usual green shellsuit and Reebok trainers—for ours, as you know, is an age of colour. She had arrived at the glittering London Guildhall, and as I was to discover from experience would later also leave it, in a long, low chauffeur-driven contract limousine; I had padlocked my mountain bike to some fine City of London lamppost or other and deposited my cycling helmet in the Guildhall's great downstairs marble-vaulted loo. She, wired for sound and clipboard in hand, was already on duty in the bright glass-walled entrance lobby, halting the brightest and best of the great and the good as they entered, and asking them to give the cameras a few sprightly words on the likely winning novel. And I, having wheedled an unwilling press-pass from the frosty guard-girls on the hostess desk, was following an ancient rule of my even more ancient profession, and heading through the lobby to the reception salon to get my frosted hands around a warming drink.
So she was media wise, and I was word foolish; and it seemed that nothing in this weird wayward old celesto-system of ours could possibly have destined us to meet. But meet we somehow did. 'You look like a nice upstanding young man,' she said, halting me with her clipboard, 'Wouldn't you like to have your picture taken for the television?' Now to this day, this very day (and by this I mean the day I sit down to write this, not the day when, with usual readerly lethargy, you sit down to read it, which could be years from now), I can't understand why she took the fatal decision to stop me rather than someone else, why she supposed that the snap opinions of a totally unknown literary journalist (if she even knew that that was what I was) on the year's prize fictions would be worth a groat to the tired evening viewer. Except of course that I can, because I was indeed a nice upstanding young man (and still am, I assure you, to this day, this very day), while most of the brightest and best of the great and the good, who were passing by in their ancient, wine-soaked evening finery, were very definitely not.
No more can I understand why, when asked, I consented. Except of course that I can, for who among us, however wise in other things, is not fool enough to be seduced by a little media attention, or doesn't suppose that by appearing on television our lives will somehow be made more real? I should have known better; but, frankly, there is nothing in this world more erotic than the searching, sucking lens of the television camera, especially when its claims are backed by the lure of a red-haired, low-cut, thong-tied, smiling female advocate. So she smiled at me brightly, I consented to her warmly; and then she took my hand and led me aside to the camera set-up, tucked away just round a corner. Here she presented me to the presenter, who, like all 'Late Show' presenters that year, was henna-haired, female, and heavily pregnant, set me in position before the truculent dark lens of the camera and its truculent dark cameraman, tilted my head, tousled my hair, dabbed an acned spot or two on my face with powder, rearranged my legs a little, and left me to my fate.
Now to this day, this very day, I really cannot imagine why I then went on to say what I then went on to say. Except of course that I can. Because this particular Booker Prize happened to fall right in the lull or dark hollow between the Entrepreneurial Eighties and the Nervous, Nebulous, Nailbiting Nineties. In the Big World, out there beyond the formal London Guildhall and the new, postmodern financial towers of the City of London, more than forty years of history were daily coming unravelled. The Berlin Wall had only lately toppled, and was already starting to fetch high prices on the art marketplace (especially if you could find a piece that had actually been signed by Honecker). It was now Bush and not Reagan who presided over the golf-courses and budget deficits of the United States; but on the throne of Britain Margaret Thatcher was still in power, and in the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev still survived, the great architect of the age of glasnost and perestroika. Right across Eastern Europe the statues fell and the busts tumbled, of Lenin and Stalin, Ceausescu and Hoxha, now scrap metal, wasted history. Frontiers opened, half Albania was on the boats, independent republics were declaring themselves, Germany was shaking hands with itself in reunification, and everyone everywhere was talking about the Great Turn of the world.
So streetwise historians were announcing the End of History, journos like me were noting the Close of the Cold War, politicians everywhere were talking of the New World Order—especially those in the New World. Marxism and the command economy were plainly dying of terminal exhaustion. On the other hand liberal capitalism wasn't doing so very well either. There was budget crisis in Washington, high-street recession in Britain, the fiscal jitters in Tokyo, and bank fraud all over the place. In Brussels Napoleonic dreamers were reinventing Europe, if they could just find out where its edges started and stopped. There was conflict in Yugoslavia, independence rioting in the Baltics, ethnic and tribal tension everywhere. Over the European fringes, Saddam Hussein (former Takriti street-fighter, and BBC World Service man of the year), thinking it was passing brave to be a king and ride in triumph through Persepolis, had sent a genocidal army to murder, rape and pillage in nearby friendly Kuwait. Meanwhile the millennium was to hand, the polar ice-cap was melting, the ozone layer depleting. There were sexual plagues, floods, droughts, severe famines, earthquakes, outbursts of boils and mass gatherings of locusts. To a nice upstanding young fellow like myself, in my green shellsuit and Reebok trainers, these were troubling days. They were also my days.
Meanwhile back in British fiction it was nostalgia time. Nearly all six novels in the Booker shortlist were what, standing there glowing in the eye of the camera, I unwisely chose to call Granny Novels—novels by authors apparently all on the further side of eighty, nearly every one of them tales about adolescent love affairs conducted to a point well short of tumescence under parasols on the beach at Deauville or Le Touquet (or just possibly in a punt on the Cam) in the long lovely summer of 1913. Think of it. Here was I, a young man born just before the year of the moonshot, someone for whom anything before the invention of WordPerfect was retrospect. Hardly surprising that I considered these as historical novels—even though their authors, understandably enough given their longevity, insisted they were entirely contemporary. Now I am a New Man, living in Camden (or Islington, as we prefer to call it). Of course I am never guilty of sexism, racism, even ageism, or gerontophobia. I believe the elderly deserve their say, like any other disadvantaged group. But I'm also a citizen of dirt-and-detritus London of the late sad century, where homeless people sleep in boxes, garbage piles up in the streets, a trip down the London Underground reminds us that life in our failing metropolis increasingly resembles existence in war-torn Beirut, and the world of these novels was really not mine at all.
I'm older now. With the wisdom of hindsight I see I may have spoken a bit too freely, been a smidgen extreme, a mite extravagant, even laid it on a little. I was talking about books I had at best skim-read, at worst digested simply by reading the blurb (to tell the truth, I found time to read some of them properly later, and they pleasantly surprised me). No doubt, as their authors claimed, they were borne of the deep wisdom of a full human experience from the red-hot fires of the imagination. I now know it is often the young who are most nostalgic for the past they've yet to acquire, and have a lively instinct for faking history. I have discovered through effort (how much effort you'll see later, if you just read on) that even the lives of the old can be complicated, their response to existence wise, that there are things about history we ought to remember. But imagine the setup, try to share it. I was still an innocent; here in front of me was the television camera. And the problem with that is when the camera looks at you you think you are speaking to it, or maybe even to the pretty girl staring at you round the side of it, rather than the wider world beyond. I belong to the age of instant reaction—thinking, eating, emoting on the hoof. It was my on-the-spot opinion TV asked for. It was my on-the-spot opinion TV got.
I chattered. Words like sentimental, parochial, traditional freely passed my lips. After a few sentences the henna-haired presenter cut me, rather curtly, I thought, off, the cameraman checked the tape, the girl in the low-cut dress said 'Brilliant' (later on I discovered she said that all the time, about all matters, good or bad). Someone else rolled up with the next victim, who was John Mortimer, or if not he someone of his size, mien and standing; and I, stupidly glad to have had my moment of media fame, my time in filmic eternity, went on my way to the vast, vaulted reception hall, decked out with fine oil portraits of great London worthies, to gather my just reward in the form of a life-enhancing drink. Here frilly-aproned waitresses stood waiting, as if glad to see me, on the wide stone steps, holding out silver trays laden with the condiments that sauce these great occasions: champagne or its near relative, orange juice, bottled water, bright gins-and-tonics into which the icecap was Antarctically melting. I gathered up two glasses of champagne, one for myself and the other for some putative companion; after all, I belong to that brilliant new generation who thinks that at parties you never know your luck. I would be among writers, who notoriously consider a drinks gathering a prelude to general adultery. I pushed my way into the penguin-suited room.
It took a while to realize I had seriously misjudged the whole occasion. The fact is, at the Booker, the glitterati are not the literati at all. The first person I spoke to said he was Neil Kinnock, and I realized later he very probably was. Perhaps that is why my fascinating chatter about experimental fiction in the post-postmodern world did not go down very well. Someone else said he was Richard Rogers, whom I probably should have talked to about Post-Postmodernism, not about filmstars who rode horses. Someone else claimed to be the Governor of the Bank of England; someone else explained that he farmed some of or possibly the whole of the West Country. There were more bankers, businessmen, politicians, ambassadors from various countries where they read books. Altogether we made a strange combination, the great and the good in their black and their white, their orders and decorations hanging bluely beneath their bow ties, I in my green shellsuit with the Reebok trainers. I was with the chattering classes, who chatted the chat the chattering classes like to chatter when they are just chatting: of the ERM of the EMU, of hard ECUs and soft landings, of holidays and health farms, of their charming villas in the Dordogne and their undying hatred of the French.
At last, impatient, I stopped a passing penguin suit—he turned out to be John Major, though he probably did not know that himself then—and asked to be directed towards some writers. After a moment of thought, he smiled affably and pointed me in the direction of the far, portrait-hung wall. He proved (on this question certainly) entirely in the right. Up against the wall, in a terrified herd, I found the shortlisted six, the authors whose books were being weighed against each other for the prize. They were huddled together, drinking glasses of orange juice and surrounded by sad-looking literary agents and publishers' publicity girls, every one of them called Fiona. As I expected, they were mostly elderly ladies, though one was a very young girl just learning the granny trade, another a male author from the Antipodes suffering from terminal jet-lag. Some of the ladies had permed their hair, though most preferred to leave theirs in a state of gay disorder. Some carried plastic shopping bags, one was already weeping a little, another complaining she had taken more orange juice than was good for her. All appeared bewildered, as if no one had properly explained to them why, just for this once, they had been let out. The only way they resembled writers was that all of them were sulky and spiteful, and clearly detested each other. By now the five judges, their deliberations completed, were back in the room and spreading the result among their spouses or other consorts. But, the game of the Booker being to keep the authors themselves in suspense as long as possible, to raise the drama of the event, the writers themselves had no idea of the outcome, and so didn't know which of their group to detest the most.
I summoned up my charm (maybe I should say that from time to time I do have some) and approached the Fionas, saying I wanted to interview their charges on the influence of Dirty Realism on their work. Speaking as one Fiona, they refused point-blank, explaining no interviews were allowed until the result had been announced. Then the winner would be presented to the press, and their remaining candidates abandoned, presumably, to their various miserable fates. Even now I'm not sure whether the Fionas told me the truth, or had correctly judged that an article by me was unlikely to be an act of pure homage. In fact I'd already intended to show that between the Booker writers and me lay a wide culture gap. They were writers who called the novel their 'medium', and the women in them still had just one breast; I came from the world of the media—how true, how true, that would prove—and the women in my life made no bones or flesh about having two. They were stuck in the age of the puritan singular, I came from the age of the permissive plural. Yes, thinking back, those Fionas were probably just good at their jobs.
By now, you could very well be wondering (of course you could equally well not) about me: my life, my literary attitudes, even my Weltanschauung in general. I could detain you with some random biography (parents, school, sporting interests, first fumbling love-makings), but I really prefer not to. Briefly, then, in the Mid-Eighties, that mysterious and now totally lost decade, I was an undergraduate at the University of Sussex, the Sixties-by-the-Sea. Here I was smart as a button, and here I acquired my literary education. It was the Age of Deconstruction, and how, there on the green Sussex chalk downs, we deconstructed. Junior interrogators, literary commissars, we deconstructed everything: author, text, reader, language, discourse, life itself. No task was too small, no piece of writing below suspicion. We demythologized, we demystified. We dehegemonized, we decanonized. We dephallicized, we depatriarchalized; we decoded, we de-canted, we defamed, we de-manned. When the course reached its end, I went to my tutor—a young but sad, bedraggled late-Marxist figure, drained of nearly all life by the academic dismantlings of the Thatcher Age—and said I had made my choice of career. Was it, he asked ironically, banking, accountancy, the law, a Harvard MBA, a course in creative writing at some even more distinguished new university? No, I said, like several of my friends, I wanted to join the army. After all, there would be no war, and I thought nothing could be more amusing than spending the rest of my days sitting drinking beer in Bavaria.
Excerpted from Doctor Criminale by Malcolm Bradbury. Copyright © 1992 Malcolm Bradbury. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The cover described the book as a "bracing comedy of ideas." That's what hooked me. I've always struggled with the idea of how to deal with ideas in fiction in a convincing, readable way. I thought this book might provide an answer. It didn't. The parts of it that dealt with ideas were few, and not the best. Most of it was a mildly amusing satire on academics and the pompous conferences they attend. Even these parts made me cringe in places: satire, when not fresh, can so easily become caricature. Thus the German delegates are all serious, the Italians are flamboyant and a bit ridiculous, the Africans are always laughing and wearing colourful clothes, etc. And the women all want to have sex with the main character, a literary journalist who shows no sign of being particularly charming or irresistible in any way. Perhaps, if you're writing a "bracing comedy of ideas", you think you have to throw in a little hanky-panky to keep the readers' interest up through all the discussions of Heidegger. But to me it felt a little sleazy, and detracted from the credibility of the story.I guess I shouldn't read so much into book blurbs. "With grace and wit its author deconstructs fifty years of European thought and history" was another promise that caught my eye. But, again, he didn't. The part I did find successful was the point that thinkers must make compromises with history, and the perspective on postmodernism as being a kind of cop-out - having seen the thinkers of the past fall into the trap of following the wrong ideas (communism/fascism), postmodernists don't support anything at all. Ironic detachment and scepticism don't help the world at all. Better to have an idea, even if flawed, a la Criminale, than not to have any ideas at all. Better to construct something wrong than merely to deconstruct and not offer anything new.The writing style was fine, if a little wordy for my liking. I hate when characters are sitting on a train reviewing the story so far and speculating at length about the motives of other characters. It feels as if I am being prodded: "look, look, you probably missed it, but this is what you should be thinking about at this point!" I think if the story is well told, the reader can be trusted to realise what the important questions are. Another slight irritation was the author's tendency to shoehorn Oscar Wilde type bons mots into the narrative, e.g. "Writers are sometimes inclined to let their work do the talking; photographers have to let their talking do much of the work." Or: "There are no travellers now, only tourists. A traveller comes to see a reality that is there already. A tourist comes only to see a reality invented for him, in which he conspires." A lot of these little flourishes were quite clever, really. But they irritated me because they broke the narrative spell: they made me forget about the characters for a few seconds, look up from the page and remember that I was reading a book by a man called Malcolm Bradbury who was trying quite hard to sound clever.
Maybe a little dated (c. 1992). But an interesting view of the postmodern Europe from an early 1990's perspective.
Maybe a little dated (c. 1992). But an interesting view of the postmodern Europe from an early 1990's perspective.