- 10 Sep 20
The Celebrated Screenwriter Goes All Out In His Sprawling Debut Novel
I suppose the debut novel from the hardly spotless mind behind Being John Malkovich was unlikely ever to be a straightforward affair, but, frankly, I might as well try and squeeze the plot of the Bible into a few hundred words as summarise this yoke, but here we go.
An unbearable, painfully ‘woke’ - we're all entitled to refer to ourselves in any manner we please, but I'm not entirely sure what the pronoun 'thon' means, isn't it Scottish for that one over there? - ‘serious’ film critic called B Rosenberger Rosenberg discovers a hitherto-unseen three-month long film when he "befriends" an old Floridian called Ingo Cutbirth. This epic of puppetry - yep - features the Beckettly named comedy duo of Mudd and Molloy and has been Cutbirth's life's work. Rosenberg is convinced that it will not only change his life - people will finally pay attention to him and read his web posts, I wonder what that would be like? - but the world itself.
Cutbirth wishes it destroyed but our man is having none of that and loads it all up haphazardly in a hired van. This is old film stock, however, and it is inevitably destroyed by fire. This ‘hero’ – post-coma – turns to hypnotism in an attempt to rescue this important work from his memory. Rosenberg's obsession with Cutbirth's puppets grows, and then things eventually go completely nutbag with a best-selling doppelgänger, Trump robots and an ant from the distant future…
Pot shots are taken at all the perils of modern life - one has to assume that the main character's hang-ups are not to be taken completely seriously - as well as real life targets like Judd Apatow, who Rosenberg appears to worship, the film critic Mark Kermode, who recently tweeted how the book refers to him as an "asshole", and even Charlie Kaufman himself, who Rosenberg is not fond of. There are laughs - you can't beat having someone being hit in the face by a plank, or having them fall down a manhole - but if you ask a reader to stick with you for 700 pages, you might grant them a central character that is, at least in part, likeable. Kaufman’s novel certainly shows plenty of technical flair and intellectual agility, and it’s as ‘meta’ as all get out, and, who knows, perhaps academics will be examining this under a Joycean microscope in your local university in a hundred years time, but an editor should have gone at this with an axe.