John Vane: How should I feel about a (mostly) good review?

John Vane: How should I feel about a (mostly) good review?

My greatest gift, as I like to gaily quip, is for making life difficult for myself. Why else would I write an offbeat novel under a pen name and publish it myself, having raised not one tiny flicker of interest in it from any publisher or literary agent?

Frightgeist was an idea I just had to bring to fruition, an itch I had to scratch. It is formed from a mass of thoughts and experiences going back over many years of living in and writing about London, its politics, places and culture.

But my wish to complete it was also fired by a desire to articulate, by means of a made-up story and characters, my more despairing responses to a cluster of recent trends and events – Brexit, reactions to Grenfell, the pandemic, the environmental crisis, online conspiracism, the rise of divisive populism – in all their scary absurdity, and my hope that in London we can and will resist them.

And I wanted to indulge in some imagination games. If London elected a black woman to be its Mayor what might she be like? What would I like her to be like? I came up with Lorraine Linton.

When the position of Mayor of London was created, some hoped non-politicians would seek to fill it – perhaps a popular business leader such as Richard Branson. I wondered what a self-made, celebrity independent mayoral candidate would have to be like in left-leaning London to stand a chance of winning, in part by filling the void created by the decay of London Conservatism. I came up with Saint Devine.

I also wanted to teasingly suggest that liberal-left characterisations of some London places and communities they aspire to defending too often depend on simplistic stereotypes, producing versions of disadvantaged minority groups that deny their diversity and agency. That is why I fashioned young East Ender Mohammad Miah.

Frightgeist betrays other signs of my vanity (clue in pen name), notably its mentions of and tributes to a range of London locations and, in particular, to London movies that have had big effects on me, such as The Long Good Friday, Blow-Up and My Beautiful Laundrette.

Naturally, as I’ve struggled against enormous odds to get the book noticed, read and bought, I’ve fantasised about other people, especially reviewers, really getting it – the mix of satire, humour, social commentary and immersion in London’s vast history and complex personality I’ve tried to weave into a compelling tall tale of the city as it has been in recent times.

Now, local paper The Hackney Citizen has reviewed it. I am truly grateful for his, and hope very much it leads to further reviews and to purchases, whether directly from me or from my local bookshop, Pages of Hackney.

But have I actually read the latest review? The answer is no. I’m not nearly brave enough. I’ve glimpsed enough of it through gaps between my fingers, to know that it is pretty positive. A couple of friends have very kindly read it for me and confirmed this. I am, of course, truly grateful for that too. But I still haven’t mustered the bottle to read it myself. Does it say the sorts of things I would love a review to say?

You will have to read it for me. See below.

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Thank you.

Buy a copy of Frightgeist either directly from or from Pages of Hackney bookshop . This article originally appeared at the Substack: John Vane – London Stories.

Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

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