Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Death of Art

Simon Bucher-Jones The Death of Art (1996)

Simon Bucher-Jones is, for all the sense it may make, a sort of Lovecraftian Stephen Baxter without necessarily reading quite like either of those. Whilst more favourable reviews have recently emerged from the internet's nether regions, his first novel The Death of Art seemingly remains largely unappreciated, actively disliked in certain quarters. Writing in I, Who, Lars Pearson described The Death of Art as a long and convoluted nightmare, referring to it again when summarising Bucher-Jones' Ghost Devices in I, Who 2, and in doing so neatly encapsulating the essence of the criticism most commonly levelled at this author:

What's obvious between this work and The Death of Art is that Bucher-Jones' ideas work far, far better when a co-writer follows along and strips in a bunch of sentences and paragraphs to help define everything.

I didn't really quite get this at the time, and coming back to The Death of Art a good few years later, I have to disagree.

For those who were unaware of this development, back when Doctor Who dropped off the bottom of the television screen back in 1989, Virgin publishing undertook to continue Sylvester McCoy's run in novel form. Whilst some of the books were about as good as you'd expect of something based on a TV show, with no realistic prospect of the thing returning to the screen, Virgin at least aspired to publishing stories which would stand up as decent novels in their own right, as opposed to telly surrogates or something that was at best merely collectable. There were a few duds, but for the most part the Virgin New Adventures, as they were called, lived up to that promise. In respect to this, I hate to sound like a pompous cunt, but the received wisdom of Simon Bucher-Jones as the incomprehensibubble Will Self of the New Adventures derives, so far as I can tell, precisely from the fact that he sets his sights a little higher than running around a playground yelling exterminate! He may indeed use loads of long fancy book learnin' words, but he's a writer so that's his job. I don't understand why anyone would regard this as a problem.

Contrary to at least some reviews I've seen, rather than comprising random passages of James Joyce scrambled up with William Burroughs, The Death of Art is in fact a beautifully atmospheric science-fiction novel of mutation and weird physics in late nineteenth century Paris, the plot of which may be followed with ease simply by reading the words and making a bit of an effort
rather than fixating on when that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as blah blah blah will show up in the hope that he'll slip in some amusing reference to something that happened in episode three of The Man Who Was A Bit Like Hitler. In other words, it's a novel, and it's written as a novel rather than something which, given the option, you'd much rather watch on television. Not everything is spelled out in primary colours, but then it wouldn't be quite so engaging if it were - or rewarding for that matter. Whilst it's easy to imagine Simon Bucher-Jones spending idle moments composing pun-heavy haikus referencing quantum theory in Chaucerian English, there's nothing intimidating about The Death of Art, nor a single dull sentence, nor a dearth of humour.

Simon Bucher-Jones may conceivably be one of the most underrated authors of the last couple of decades.

1 comment:

  1. Another one that's still sitting in the pile to be read and has now jumped up a little nearer the top.