“Beware the novelist…intimate and indiscreet…pompous, prophetic airs…here is the fact of fiction…an American tale where, naturally, evil conquers good, and none live happily ever after, for the complicated pangs of the empty experiences of flesh-and-blood human figures are the reasons why nothing can ever be enough. To read a book is to let a root sink down. List of the Lost is the reality of what is true battling against what is permitted to be true”
In the world there are two types of people; those who can write and those who cannot. What is most frustrating about Morrissey’s attempt as fictional writing is that we know that he can, actually, write. As a lyricist he is one of the best, but unfortunately, as a fictional writer he is definitely one of the worst that I have had the misfortune to read. The above quotation is taken from the blurb of List of the Lost; if it reads as confusing and slightly outrageous, this is exactly the entire essence of the book.
Ezra, Nails, Harri and Justy are four boys who compete together in their university relay team. We first meet them at practice and find out that they are in training for an up-coming race. Throughout the following 117 pages – it is a blessedly short novel – they each experience love, loss, death, violence and sex, before coming to their own unfortunate endings.
There are many things wrong with this book but principally the flowery, overdramatic and rambling prose. Long paragraphs are not unusual, William Faulkner in Absalom! Absalom! used fragmented prose successfully. However, it seems apparent that if this writing style is adopted it should not be so confused as to render the reader re-reading the passage several times, accompanied by frantic bashing of their head against a wall, before finally gaining some sort of vague understanding.
Death is a big feature of this book, but it is badly handled. Death is sensitive and should be handled both skilfully and, most important, realistically. I would not dare to suggest that Morrissey is insensitive, the depth of his feelings weeps off the pages, but he is not at all realistic. In a similar vein, his sex scenes are excruciatingly painful to read. For example, try reading the following quotation out loud without either bursting into a fit of laughter or grimacing.
“At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone”
Everyone who has listened to The Smiths or to Morrissey, whether avidly or briefly, knows exactly what issues he stands for. He is strongly socialist, against animal cruelty and overly critical of America. These are issues that he allows to drip out of the pages of this book. For example, at one point he bemoans,
“yet at the human hand the animals are whacked and hacked into chopped meat whilst gazing up at their protector with disbelief and pleading for a mercy not familiar to the human spirit, ground and round into hash or stew for the Big Mac pleasure of fat-podge children whose candidature for roly-poly vicious porkness makes their plungingly plump parents laugh loudly”
This is Morrissey at his best; lyrically critical. The non-fictional criticisms are some of the best writing in this book. Indeed, last year I read his Autobiography and really enjoyed it, he definitely excels at writing non-fiction to get his point across.
With every story comes a moral and normally they are very easy to pin-point. Morrissey has jam-packed his 118 pages with so many confusing themes that it is very difficult to settle on what this novel is actually about. I would hesitate to guess that he uses the character of Ezra to play on what a hero actually is. Ezra is indeed not your archetypal hero; instead of saving the day, he in fact ruins the lives of those around him and is, in most cases, responsible for their death.
Morrissey is a wonderful, talented lyricist but, unfortunately, a horrific story-teller. List of the Lost is a confused and badly-constructed novel which features some of the worst death and sex scenes ever written. Please, I sincerely beg of you, do not read this book.
Link to previous review of Morrissey’s Autobiography :