Shitlit

May 24, 2007 at 3:14 pm | Posted in my mammy hit me once but I'm alright now | 56 Comments

There I was in Asda (a division of Wal*Mart, they proudly tell us), having a scan of the books before starting the soul-destroying traipse around the aisles with the cream of Motherwell scum. Or maybe it was the scum of Motherwell cream. I forget. Whoever they are, you can’t even go from Bread to Baking without hearing some haggard skank of a mother rasping “Kate-linnnnnn! Leave that man alone and get back o’er tae this fackin trolley or Ah’ll kick yer cunt in!”.

That lot are bearable – after all, I’ve been living here nearly five years now. I’m practically one of them. I look forward to the day when I have to manhandle Jack roughly while roaring at him that I’m going to kick his cunt in. I just hope I don’t tear up too much with the emotion of it all.

I’ll tell you what got my blood boiling, for some reason I’m still having trouble working out. You know those stories about one child’s struggle in the face of adversity? A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer and so forth. Well, did you know that there is now a whole genre, a full fucking section! of these kinds of books written by people about their childhoods of abuse and torture? It’s even got its own name, but I was in such a rage I can’t remember it. Abuselit, maybe.

Now, I’m not annoyed with Dave Pelzer himself, that was just an example. I’ve read his books, and they’re horrific and uplifting. He was a trailblazer, and I believe his intentions were honourable: he wanted to tell his story to offer hope to the hopeless and hapless. He had no idea he’d become a worldwide best seller.

I can’t help but be cynical about all that’s followed though. Sure, you get the “I just wanted to tell the true story of my horrendous life so people could know they’re not alone” spiel, but I have trouble believing that. It may be partly true, but tell me they didn’t have one eye on the bestsellers list and the pots of dough waiting to be made by playing on people’s guilty empathy.

Hello, Agent? My life’s got the right mix of ingredients to bake a weeping, weepy pie of woe. These days? Well, I’m a successful cheese mechanic with a loving family, so I think that gives you your cherry of hope on top. And the publishers provide someone to help me bake the pie? Great.

Then each slice goes on sale for £6.99 in Borders and they cry all the way to the bank.

Sensible people know that life is a series of crushing disappointments spackled with brief respites to allow you to gather the strength to keep going until the next disappointment. Do we have to wallow in it though? Okay, laughter may not be the best medicine – try saying that to a breast cancer patient being denied Herceptin and see how far it gets you – but why are these fucking books so popular? Why do people get off so much on the triumphant child phoenix rising from the flames of parental torment? Are people not sick and tired of inspirational true-life stories about overcoming adversity in the face of overwhelming odds? Will I ask any more questions in this paragraph?

Look, I know hating those books is pointless and childish, I do. But I still fucking hate them.

Julian Gough wrote a brilliant essay recently about the decline of comedy (with thanks to Badgerdaddy for the link) and why modern writing must be tragic to be considered to be of literary merit. Go and read it – it’s long but well worth it.

I’m telling you, I’m tempted to write a comedy book taking the piss out of my terrible childhood just out of spite. Maybe I’ll start a new genre. Hilariabuselit or something.

Not that I was abused, mind you.

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  1. Yeah kav, I agree. If all they really wanted to do was tell the true story of their horrendous life so people could know they’re not alone, they’d get a fucking blog like a normal person.

  2. Great post today. I hate “band-jumper-on-ers too. I remember when Oprah tearfully admitted smoking crack – I never watched her show again.

  3. Hey! I just posted a comment and it was lost.
    Anyway, it’s really simple. People get off on other people’s misery because it makes them feel superior.
    Frank McCourt’s story of his awful childhood sold well so people could say, well aren’t I lucky?
    If you tell your life story in terms of “hey, I had a shitty childhood but what’s really important is how I thrived in spite of that and all I managed to achieve” people will cut you down right quick.

  4. Medbh, that’s just it though – is that not what those books are about, and how they’re written? And yet they’re incredibly popular.

    jali: Oprah smoked crack? Holy crap. She’s a lunatic, that wan.

  5. I’m sure I didn’t give you that link. I don’t usually link to clever stuff, see. And that’s clever.

  6. PS: I fucking hate these books too.

  7. Fuck, who was it then?

  8. I had a fairly shitty childhood, probably not as bad as yours, but I found that wallowing in thinking about it wasn’t giving me ‘closure’ while writing humorous stuff about it on my blog was. I mean, you can’t change the past, so just laugh at it. I think you should definately write a book in the Hilariabuselit genre. I’d buy it!

  9. Dead right. Miserable cunts. If they just killed themselves they’d spare us their torturous prose.

  10. I was at a writing group recently (don’t ask) and made to cronic mistake of writing a satirical piece. I was last to read after 9 other stories of desperate childhoods and losing parents. Unsurprisingly it was a disaster. Apparently it doesn’t matter how crap your writing is as long as people cry.

  11. Well the standard in the U.S. for a long time was Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Do read it if you get a chance. It’s the model rags to riches story, but it accentuates the positive. How Ben went from a lowly shop assistant to his wretched brother to being an elder statesman. It’s a classic. The difference is that Ben’s story focuses on progress while most of the modern day tales are mired in the lurid details of subjugation, incest, abuse, addiction and the like. It’s the p.o.v. we get: diplomat or crackhead?
    I’m guessing that Oprah says that to maintain credibility with the working class. Tales like hers and that “Pursuit of Happyness” make it look like all you have to do is work hard and you’ll be rich.
    It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that.

  12. I’m so sick of that whole genre that I could just cry. It’s like the Tori Amos effect in music—I don’t care about your crappy life, Tori. I would like you to get a life.

    Lately I’ve read some fine dark comedies, and they have been most satisfying.

  13. You want to try this new book, The De Vinci Story by Derren Brown. It might be on the shelves at Asda. It’s well wicked and after reading it, you’ll feel abused and tortured.

  14. It’s Victimese. It must be an officially recognised disease by now.

    People want to feel unique and special and the world’s a busy place. The way they get people to pay attention to them is to fling a couple of buzzwords around like child abuse/neglect/miserable bullying; I was brought up by wildebeest! They want to be seen to have overcome tremendous odds to become the person they are today. See me! Recognise my suffering – I bet I can out-suffer you, you non-suffering nobody, you!

    But more than anything else it’s about sex. Look at my dark past! My haunted eyes! Witness my self-deprecating but slightly wincing humour about my childhood and marvel at my braveness! Suffering is sexy.

    The thing is that they’ve prostituted themselves and cheapened whatever real suffering they – or worse, others – did go through and they know it. After the money’s gone, they’ll need more therapy than they ever did before they told all.

  15. I’m delighted you liked my article so much. And as for…

    “I’m telling you, I’m tempted to write a comedy book taking the piss out of my terrible childhood just out of spite. Maybe I’ll start a new genre. Hilariabuselit or something.”

    If you write it, I’ll get my agent to read it. It’s the book the world is waiting for. The world is just too stupid to realise it yet.

    -Julian Gough

    London, Tipperary, Berlin

    “The Novel Revolutionized While You Wait”

    http://www.juliangough.com

  16. Well, did you know that there is now a whole genre, a full fucking section!

    The 70’s were full of horrible “inspirational” books about people with dying kids, and their kids with horrible illnesses, and their kids who were born with birth defects. Once prenatal testing, ultrasound, and abortion became more common, we no longer had to put up with those books, so yay science!

    And thanks for the link to that article; it was brilliant. As a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, I am all in favor of anything that adds a little more Coyote to the world, literary or otherwise. There are not nearly enough people out there who look at the world through jaded, yellow eyes and still take the piss out of everyone and everything, including themselves.

    And that’s why I read you.

  17. Frank McCourt started a whole fucking industry. The Miserable Irish Catholic Childhood (MICC).

    The bastard filled this town with crocodiles of stupid Japanese tourists looking for fucking rain.

    Bastard.

  18. I like the way that Julian bloke can be in three places at once. He’s like a holy trinity like Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Or Bananarama.

    The bastard filled this town with crocodiles of stupid Japanese tourists looking for fucking rain.

    More tourists to stab. What are you complaining about?

  19. since we’re on the subject…how about the goddamn chicken soup bullshit books? or the i learned everything in kindergarten crap? why have people stopped thinking for themselves? have we really lost the ability for critical thinking? and oprah can kiss my high yellow ass!

    *i feel so much better, thank you, kav*

  20. The bastard filled this town with crocodiles of stupid Japanese tourists looking for fucking rain.

    Jeez, Bock, I’d have thought they could spot the rain over your neck of the woods with a fucking satellite.

  21. ya ya ya my father never hugged me, these are the same cunts who comment as anonymous and bring a dooner to a funny post, if I catch them I’ll give them something to cry about.

  22. It’s fucking boring tripe, who the fuck hasna’t been abused in some way shape or form. ‘Uh, my mommy was mean.’ So what? Mine too, wait until they get older and then get them back.

  23. Tired old Joke Twenty. I thought you wrote your own.

  24. “…wait until they get older and then get them back.”

    Hee.

  25. It’s the equivalent of the True Movie, Kav. It’s also why you have hugely popular magazines like Take A Break, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Way et cetera. Women love that shit.

  26. Julian Gough Toasted Heretic Julian Gough ??? ie best lyrics of the late 80s early 90s for the UCGers of old. ??
    It’s one thing with the autobiographies, but another with the abuse fiction, I’m thinking of Jodi Picoult (sp?). Why?
    Blarneyman has a point. The true movie/weepy and the gut-wrenching prose are linked. Typical book club picks (ie women yakking about a book, and their kids, husbands, job etc) are usually very heavy tear-jerkers. Is this an identification with oppression? Discuss.

  27. How’re’ya EashtGalwaywoman, yeah same Julian, glad you liked the lyrics…

    I’m living in Berlin (couldn’t afford to live in Ireland anymore), so I’m enjoying the hole off this blog. Like being back in a snug in Neachtains.

    The evolution of the abuse memoir into the abuse novel has been very interesting to watch. First couple of abuse or misery memoirs (A Boy Called It / Angela’s Ashes, we’ll say) are genuine, heartfelt, disturbing. Sell well, create a demand. Create, God help us, a genre. So publishers start to actively look for abuse memoirs. So people start to deliberately write such memoirs with an eye to the solidifying rules of the genre. So the memoirs, bizzarely, become more and more forced and faked and fictional.

    So people start to write abuse novels that imitate the rawness of the original memoirs.

    And readers, book by book, slowly go from reading something where the only justification for reading it was that it was absolutely true, to reading totally fictional, totally commercial, abuse porn that would’ve gotten you arrested ten years ago.

    I wonder do readers notice, and feel really dirty, and keep on reading anyway, or do they just not notice the difference?

    -Julian Gough

    London, Galway, Berlin

    “The Bananarama of Literature”

    http://www.juliangough.com

  28. “Tales of a Teenage Tinker”

  29. I agree, it’s best to laugh about a shitty childhood, because rolling around in the crap, going over and over it does not seem to help. I’d love to read some of your Hilariabuselit.

  30. Tired old Joke Twenty. I thought you wrote your own.

    Says the ‘Robber’…

  31. Women love that shit.

    Speak for yourself, Blarneyman.

  32. Well Twenty, it’s true.

    That Stab thing was an invention of of second-rate hacks. It gave them a cliche to use as a substitute for thinking and I thought you had more talent than that.

  33. You’ve got to write that novel Kav, and start off the Hilariabuselit genre. Why don’t you just write the first chapter as a blog post. I would be intrigued to read just how bad your childhood was…but unless you lived in a council estate and a few of your siblings died of heroin related AIDS you’re going to have some tough competition in out-sadding the rest of the grossest hard luck stories.

  34. Well I’m just pissed because Frank McCourt beat me to it.I had it all planned out too.

    The the Stab-Hack-Twenty thing happened…..but we don’t like to talk about it.

  35. Whoops…should have been “Then the Stab-Hack-Twenty thing happened”

    See what happens when you leave out an ‘n’?
    You get ‘kifed’ or “Twety is a cut”

    Hagar Quee

  36. I know how you feel but I get caught in the middle. Without going into a personal rigamarole I think it can’t be said enough. (There are people I know personally charged and released on insufficient evedence-it happened too long ago and they are able to deny it on that score). I want these people (who are still allowed to working with childern) to be reminded every second of their everyday. Naturally it maybe a viable market but if it is in some way helping those who are scared to come out and say what happened to them, well let it be.
    Kav you wouldn’t believe it, the people I’m talking about are peers of the community. O I better stop now. Sorry Kav can’t be said enough. If it happens to your kid you’ll know what I’m talking about and forget about getting a shotgun and all that stuff because when it actually comes to it like it did to me–I backed down in the name of reason and my family.
    Y;-) Paddy

  37. […] what the fuck? Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  38. I had a very happy childhood, which makes me miserable when I think about it. Then again, I’m having a pretty miserable time in adulthood which I’m perfectly happy about in fairness.

    So what to write, ey? Kav if you establish the genre, can do I do the second novel in it, ya know, before the genre gets scorned?

  39. OH MY GOD I THOUGHT YOU WERE MAKING IT UP.

    I was in a bookshop in Liverpool yestreday and there it was, a full section of abuse-lit. Unbelievable!

  40. I’m working on a book about a bird who was abused as fledgling for being big and clumsy and ugly. But she went on to become a big, clumsy, ugly but powerful and important bird. It’ll be called “Something about Mary” and genre will, of course, be chicklit.

  41. “More tourists to stab. What are you complaining about?”

    Considering that there have been two knife attacks in the one day in Dublin only two days ago, one being fatal and the other attack on a female newstalk journalist, I think Mr. Major’s glasshouse is looking rather precarious.

    You don’t have to go all the way to Limerick to find a stabbing, there are plenty of them on your own turf.

  42. Erm, I really didn’t think anyone would take that ‘stab’ comment in any way seriously. Is there something in the water down there too?!

  43. Hmmmm… Maybe we should all have a stab – no offence, Bock, Twenty – at the Hilariabuselit genre. Maybe do it like a daisy chain, Kav writes the first chapter and passes it on… Christ knows what we’d end up with.

  44. I can’t remember much about my childhood, this could be because of any number of reasons was it boring, miserable, happy or irrelevant? I can’t remember much about it anyway, except for getting the shite hammered out of me now and then, but that was happening to everyone.

  45. Again twenty it appears as if the Dubs won’t look at their own stats.
    From the Garda Statistics themselves: at
    http://www.garda.ie/angarda/statistics/report2005/annreport2005b.pdf

    Dublin Metropolitan area : Headline Crime per thousand head of Population : 39.13 (Average, Varies between 24.63 & 114.57 in the different areas)

    Limerick: 31.85

    Kinda blows doesn’t it, Proof that in fact Dublin is a lot less safe to live in than Limerick.
    But again it’s like everything in The east, it is either a feud in Limerick or it happens in “GAnglAnd”, it just never happens in Dublin. Lazy reporting, a definite undercurrent of Protect ourselves and our reputation at all costs. And people with half a brain should know better. It took me all of five minutes to locate and copy these stats.

    Isn’t it about time that this Stab Shite was dropped, unless you want to rename Dublin????

  46. Yeah, because I’m forever bigging up Dublin as the best place on earth.

    Do I need to say it was a throw away remark again?

    Maybe I need to say it more slowly.

  47. emma: Nah, my childhood wasn’t that bad really, just your average Irish upbringing, I suppose. Plenty of Catholic guilt and the odd beating thrown in for a laugh. But yeah, wallowing’s pointless.

    I dunno what the story is with your comments, but rest assured they aren’t being lost – they’re just going to spam and I have to fish them out.
    ~
    Twenty: Yeah, now that’d be a novel way to end the complaining. Novel, get it? Okay, I’m off…

    On the other thing – right lads, I’m pretty sure this was a light-hearted comment, no need to get your knickers in a twist. 5/10 for effort though Twenty, try harder next time.
    ~
    Bock: I purposely excluded McCourt because I thought he wrote well and he injected it with a bit of humour to offset the misery.

    With regard to the thing with Twenty, come on lads – Bock, Squid, Bruff – it was just an off the cuff comment. Everyone of our generation in Ireland refers to Limerick as Stab City. I know a fair few Limerick lads in real life, and I know that it’s a bit of a sensitive topic – they HATE any of those kinds of references, and I can understand why. That said, I think it was meant in jest, and is not worth getting worked up about.

    Now, everyone shut the fuck up and let’s have a pint.
    ~
    flirty: Good on you – at least you were original.
    ~
    medbh: I might check that out, I do like a good biography.
    ~
    sassy: I’d like to hear some of your recommendations, if you chance to read this again.
    ~
    Mr Eater: Are you being serious, you deadpan fecker? I’m going to choose no, and attribute that comment to being a snowball of pop-culture references cleverly worded to sound like something FUCKING AMAZING.
    ~
    Sam: Well said, better than I could’ve put it.
    ~
    Julian: What a pleasant surprise. Welcome to the blog, and if you were being serious about passing stuff on to your agent, thanks very much. Very generous of you. Glad you’re enjoying my shite-talk.

    You know, when my wife Linzi worked in a certain bookshop back in Galway, she helped co-ordinate your book signing for Juno and Juliet in the Town Hall. She even shook your hand and stole bought a signed copy. And now here we are. Mad, ha?

  48. slim: Thank you, that’s a great reason. I feel all warm and gooey now, like a jizz-riddled bedsheet.
    ~
    savannah: That’s it woman, rant! RANT! RANT!
    ~
    knudsen: You know what, they probably are. Cunts.
    ~
    FMC: Haha, brilliant.
    ~
    Annie: Hey, that’s what I said.

    And yeah! There really is a section like that. Gak.
    ~
    Blarneyman: Oh shit man, that was brave of you to say. Prepare for the backlash…

  49. EGW: I wouldn’t have classed Jodi Picoult in there to be honest. I’ve seen her classed as Chicklit too and think it does her a disservice. She’s a good writer – a tad formulaic sometimes, but she has some stand-out books that I’d definitely recommend. I know what you mean though – it’s practically an industry.
    ~
    Devin: Your story is much more worthwhile than any of that guff. I maintain you’re going to shift units some day.

    Shift units, heh. Did that make me sound all professional and shit?
    ~
    Paddy: I’m not disputing that awareness shouldn’t be raised abotu it – far from it. It’s a serious topic and okay, needs to be dealt with with a certain gravitas and sensitivity. However, there’s matter-of-fact storytelling and there’s wallowing in one’s misery – the voyeuristic (or maybe narcissistic?) “look at me, share my pain” kind of storytelling. That’s what irks me.
    ~
    Eolaí: Absolutely, I’d love to see your take on things. In fact, you’ll probably end up writing the first one, because I, as usual, will procrastinate until I’m dead.
    ~
    Sneezy: Heh, you are quality sir, quality.
    ~
    badgerdaddy: Brilliant idea mang. Now that would be funny.
    ~
    Tim: Is that because you’re 86 years old?

    Everyone got the shite hammered out of them when we were growing up, it was just normal behaviour, not abuse.
    ~
    By the way Emma, I forgot to mention that yeah, I did grow up on a council estate, only without the heroin or AIDS bits you talked about.

  50. […] lads, it’s all happening. I read, but was too tied up in things to respond to, all your comments over the weekend. You lot crack me up. You should go and read them, because in this I have […]

  51. I just read The Gift by David Flusfeder. I came across it in a used bookshop, and I was laughing out loud in the store. It was out in the UK long before it reached our shores, though, so you might have already read it.

    This wasn’t a black comedy, but Veronica by Mary Gaitskill (she wrote the short story that formed the basis for the movie “Secretary”) had some amazing sentences. The topic was odd, but her writing was so good that I didn’t mind reading the tale of an ex-model. I’m reading Bad Behavior by her now—it’s a collection of short stories (and has the Secretary story in it).

  52. Sassy, I read Veronica about six months ago and thought it was a gem of a novel. You’re right, the sentences are magical.

  53. Cool, I’ll check them oot. Thanks.

  54. The reason they hate it is very simple. It’s hateful.

    And wrong.

    And evil.

  55. By the way, did you notice we’re all kissy-lovey pals again now?

    It was probably some kind of post-hormonal thing.

  56. I know, it’s great Bock. Make-up sex is the best kind.


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