Monday, June 22, 2009
Bete's New Book
I should start by declaring an interest. I’ve been a reader of Stan Cattermole’s since he started his blog and have ceaselessly promoted him here and to my friends. I’m even on the list of supporters at the back of this new book. And I’m so pleased he’s made it into print; his writing deserves recognition and some money. The paradoxical problem with the internet of course, is that even excellent things like his blog ‘Bete De Jour’ are free, thus producing a problem for the purveyors of excellent things. But while it doesn’t seem to me to be cheating to take the best of your blog posts and repackage them as the basis for a book I don’t know wether this one really works.
Bete De Jour – as a blog - is pretty exciting writing if you like laughter and honesty with your laptop and coffee. Over the months Stan has faced up manfully to a humungous weight problem, an alleged lack of looks and a grim poverty of sexual opportunity. His posts deal with a wealth of other problems which are met head on in an often hilarious and always highly compelling way. A lot happens. He discovers some truths about his parents, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say his love life enjoys something of a renaissance, and he moves house. So this book which uses the blogging as a springboard for a bigger narrative isn’t a thriller. Think suburban earthquakes.
And for his friends and readers – the net often merges the two groups and at one point this works in Stan’s life to an extreme degree - there’s a return of old favourites. The brilliantly written scrabble match in Burnley is here and some of his terrifying early sexual encounters make their terrifying re-appearance. There’s a lot of additional material about his appalling childhood. Being by his own description ‘ugly’ is just the start of his problems.(I have no idea if he is, incidentally. Stan doesn’t favour us with pictures) Some of his schoolfriends are so cruel they ought to be had up at the Hague. He goes to a reunion. It is as difficult as you’d imagine.
Because he writes so unsparingly, and it’s usually funny, this book just escapes being a misery memoir. But just occasionally I found my self thinking, come on Stan, hit back. Get a little wicked. Don’t be afraid to give in to the Dark Side, I shouted inwardly, because by God he takes a hell of a lot of stick in this book. Bad luck seems to follow him around. His close friends become ill very frequently. Don’t get too attached to his cat. It’s all a bit grim, at points. And that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t completely gel; I want a fightback.
I also want more themes somehow or maybe even a bit of suspense which you don’t get when you’ve been cruising his blog, so maybe that’s my fault. He’s added a lot more into this than just transcribing his blog posts, yet there’s a sense of the book being a stitched together series of episodes rather than a narrative flow. Maybe I’m being pernickety.
That being said, Stan changes his life in many positive ways, which is a big thing and a good read, particularly if you’re a newcomer. And don’t get me wrong, this is a strong debut from a man with a considerable webby following. He does write almost suspiciously well. Could this be a fascinating experiment by someone much better known? I can’t rid myself of this thought. I’m like that though.
Anyway do buy this book, a man who writes like this – whoever he is - deserves lunch. But for all his accomplishments, both in his life and in the way Mr C has documented it, it still feels a bit more of a blog thing, than a book thing.