October 19, 2011

A “bum-squeakingly close” literary contest


Yesterday, The Not-the-Booker Prize, the rowdy, populist rival to the Man Booker Prize, came down to what prize moderator Sam Jordison described as a “bum-squeakingly close” (translation for American readers: “very close”) finish between King Crow by Michael Stewart (Blue Moose Books) and Spurious by Lars Iyer (Melville House).

The final tally:

King Crow – 114

Spurious – 108

Jude in London – 44

Fireball – 24

Sherry Cracker Gets Normal- 18

English Slacker – 16

Which immediately made us wonder: if a novel does not win the Not-the-Booker, doesn’t that mean it has won the Booker?! Answer: No. Someone named Julian Barnes won that prize.

While we are forlorn that Iyer did not win the coveted first place coffee mug, we are heartened by the many wonderful reviewers—many of them apparently real people—who rallied passionately around Spurious during this somewhat preposterous literary prize. We’d like to share a few of our favorites, written by the respected literary critics Andrew Gallix, Mark Thwaite, and John Self.


Lars Iyer’s Spurious is, hands down, one of my favourite books of the year. Its two protagonists are a couple of woodlice à la Bouvard and Pécuchet (or Vladimir and Estragon) whose very failure to live up to the Continental thinkers/writers they so admire, turns out, paradoxically, to be a successful way of living up to them (and even living out their works). Time and time again, they fail successfully. Hilarious, erudite and often moving, Spurious manages to combine high-minded Modernism with a very English instinct to mock intellectual pretension. The constant oscillation between the two — this fundamental ambiguity — enables Iyer to have his cake and eat it, which is the very definition of literature in my book.


Laurel and Hardy, Bert and Ernie, Withnail and Marwood… double acts have long delighted us. Couples, it seems, are intrinsically funny. Lars and W., the heroes of Lars Iyer’s novel ‘Spurious’ – and, in their own way, fighting damp, fighting their stupidity, squabbling with each other, they are heroic – easily join the ranks of the best of them. Two intellectuals – and not ‘would-be intellectuals’ either, our heroes are clever and well-read, but know, because of this, how little they know, how huge is their ignorance – who battle and bond, who gossip, grumble and gripe. W. castigates, Lars reports back. Their squabbles are incessant and repetitive, but there is no enmity here: “W. tests me on Spinoza: What is a mode? What’s a substance? What’s an atttibute? … W. tells me … ‘getThe Idiot’s Guide to Spinoza, then. But that’ll be too hard, too. Start with these letters on a piece of paper: S-P-I-N-O-Z-A. Ponder that in your stupidity’.” Clever about how being clever is never that far from being daft as a brush, rarely ennobling, and mostly just beside the point, this is one of funniest books about friendship I’ve ever read.


“We’re essentially joyful. That’s what will save us.”

“W. and I never think about our deaths or anything like that. That would be pure melodrama. Besides, if we died, others would come along to replace us. Our position is structural, we’ve always been convinced of that. We’re only signs or syndromes of some great collapse, and our deaths will be no more significant than those of summer flies in empty rooms.”

If that doesn’t make you laugh then perhaps Spuriousisn’t for you. Or maybe it only made me laugh because I was by then attuned to the book’s brilliant style, where the old friends comedy and tragedy don’t so much rub shoulders and share bodily fluids. If you’re reading this at all other than to check the voter count for the Not the Booker Prize, then I urge you to stop reading and readSpurious instead.