England is Perfectly Still by Trevor Carolan
Pen Press UK $29
The memoir can be a difficult genre to deal with, for author and reader alike. For the writer, accusations of extreme self-indulgence can only be mitigated by delivering well a compelling personal history. For the reader, the author must be at least likeable, preferably admirable, their tale either one of great human achievement, or one that provides new insights into a well-known event or era.
Unfortunately, Irishman (now Auckland resident) Trevor Carolan's self-published tale of his time in London in the naughties fails every single one of those criteria.
I say "unfortunately" because there are indications that he can write. Perhaps his sit-com scripts, his attempts to have them screened forming the basis of the book, are a better outlet for his imagination.
Not all the blame should be laid at his feet. If Pen Press UK provides wannabe authors with an editing resource, that department, too, has failed profoundly. The text is inundated with unforgivable literals: typos, grammatical inaccuracies, woeful changes of tense (often within the same sentence), random capitalisations, random omissions of punctuation, all over most pages. It makes reading it a trial.
But a publisher/editor provides more than just technical assistance: they provide that crucial element in all creative activities, perspective. There are pages of unfunny, irrelevant dialogue that should have been excised. There are personal comments from Carolan that would offend a wide and forgiving audience: "The truth was I had never been on the receiving end of a bollocking by a black woman." "When I get the greenlight [sic] from ITV, I can tell the fat cow where to go." Not funny, not clever, rather arrogant.
A memoirist needs to be vaguely appealing, otherwise you don't care what happens to them. Carolan is indifferent to or loathing of most of the women he sleeps with, he hates every temp job he gets because he is so much better than his colleagues/boss/the firm concerned, he's smug enough that after emailing a script to someone at a television network, he and his Kiwi partner are discussing how he will handle fame. On Obama: "He was deeply articulate; I found his baritone very soothing. When he spoke, he actually reminded me of myself." Golly.
In this memoir, we are told, Carolan is going to "distill the spirit of the age". The 7/7 attacks get barely a mention, but star-spotting while supping his favourite hazelnut latte is repeated, ad nauseum.
It's troubling to be so negative, but there are writers out there with far greater commitment to their craft and respect of their potential audience who really deserve a shot.
Offering a readership that you consider you are entitled to a consolation prize memoir because your first creative option wasn't taken up is not going to win you any friends: publishers, reviewers, or readers. Ironically the best thing here is the title, reflective
as it is of an almost surreal and wonderful observation from his youth in suburban Dublin.
That, perhaps, was the idea that should have been expanded.
Michael Larsen is an Auckland reviewer.