There is, ironically, an unwritten rule in book reviewing: you don’t trash first-time novelists. With filmmakers, say, or musicians, you can spread the blame because they seem to work in more collaborative fields, but it feels simply too unfair to pour scorn on the efforts on one author whose second novel may – who knows? – be a masterpiece.
That rule apparently doesn’t apply when you’re one of the world’s greatest living songwriters and have published a best-selling autobiography. Early, derisive reviews for Morrissey’s debut novel have attempted to crush his literary ambitions and it’s true that List Of The Lost is a confused, often quite embarrassing slab of cringeworthy sex, clichés and bizarre, stilted dialogue.
We meet four male relay runners – Ezra, Nails, Harri and Justy – in 1970s Boston. Ezra is sexually assaulted by a demon (an “elderly imp swaying like a nightmarish object of hardbitten brutality”) whom he then accidentally kills. The friends bury the corpse and attempt to prepare for an important race, under the guidance of their coach Mr Rims. But the demon, it seems, is not so dead after all, and he seeks revenge.
List Of The Lost has been published by Penguin, a hallmark of quality and longevity, but more closely resembles a tawdry, forgotten 1950s pulp novel. The sex scenes are almost impossible to navigate (yes, he calls an erect penis a “bulbous salutation”) and it feels like you’re swallowing concrete as you slog through the book’s huge paragraphs.
It’s like an unedited first draft, a shapeless mound of ideas that needs sculpting into shape. John Niven, author of the novel Kill Your Friends, said in a recent interview that re-reading your first draft is like “watching footage of yourself masturbating”. Imagine Morrissey bent double, pumping away at his bulbous salutation, and you’ve imagined his book.