A few days ago, I received an e-mail from my father, entitled 'Disappointment'. Since this is one of his more complimentary nicknames for me - along with 'Rastus', although that's a story for another day - I didn't think too much of it. But then I read his message, and I realised that he was genuinely disappointed in me; specifically disappointed that I hadn't written a sarky blog post about Jeffrey Archer's new book.
Now, since he's my dad, and one of the few cool golfers on the planet, and because he's voluntarily ploughing through my Radiohead book despite having no interest in the subject matter - seeing as how Radiohead are neither black nor dead - I've been humbled into submission, as the post below reveals. But his original message has made me think. How do I know that my blog is achieving desired levels of satisfaction in the target demographic? People do occasionally express a liking for what I've written, but for the most part I'm flying in the dark. Maybe there are other people out there who are thinking, "Hmmm, well, I quite like that Cultural Snow, and I check it out once in a while, but I'm slightly concerned about the paucity of coverage he gives to Jeffrey Archer/Gilbert and George/Cate Blanchett/Lee 'Scratch' Perry/cheesy-pineapple chunks. Were he to venture into such areas I would add him to my blogroll and recommend him to my friends, many of whom are powerful and influential arbiters of the Zeitgeist who could give him his own show on BBC4."
On the offchance that this is so, I'm instituting an occasional request spot. If there's something you'd like me to write about, please let me know, and I'll try to oblige.
Just don't put 'Disappointment' in the subject line, please. My therapist is still dealing with the fallout from that one.
Anyroad up, as you probably know by now, Jeffrey Archer has squeezed out a new tome, called The Gospel According to Judas. Many observers have remarked that the narrative core of the slim volume (the rehabilitation of a wrong 'un) is something rather close to the ignoble Lord's heart. Moreover, he seems to have picked up a new clutch of pals in recent years, presumably having been dumped by his old Tory chums along with half their policies. His new buddies are priests, mostly Catholics but also, bizarrely, the unimpeachable Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Is this a genuine change of heart, or a cynical ploy to imply that he's now atoned for his sins? Or is it that, faced with the success of Dan Brown, who has also made millions by writing derivative shit, Archer too wants a slice of the episcopal blockbuster market, albeit on the side of the Angels rather than Brown's demons.
I haven't read the book, although that hasn't stopped many hacks from having a pop at the bumptious little perjurer. However, its synopsis did ring a few bells. When I was in my early teens, I was a big fan of Not the Nine O'Clock News and its associated spin-offs. I think it was the NOT 1983 calendar that had a 'Gospel According to Judas', including the following version of The Last Supper. (I'm quoting from memory here.)
And Jesus said: "One of you here tonight will betray me."
And Judas said: "Lord, is it I?"
And Jesus said: "Certainly not, Judas, it's one of the others. You wouldn't do a thing like that."
Now, I wouldn't want to accuse Jeff of plagiarism, although were he to attempt to sue anyone for libel I doubt there would be a dry eye in the courtroom. But I do think he's done something very clever here. Like many of his books (see Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, First Among Equals if you can bear the derisive sneers in Waterstones), Archer's new book is blatantly autobiographical, a fact that will be obvious to all but the most clueless reader. But he takes things further this time. In identifying with Judas, he's obviously making a point of associating with traitors and blasphemers, the lowest of the low. With the subtle act of, um, over-enthusiastic borrowing (anyone remember the Kathleen Burnett scandal?) he's piling on even more sins, incuding those that Judas had never even heard of. Indeed, he seems to be taking all the sins of the world onto himself, and onto his work. His own real sins become both the content of the work and the subtext. It's all so metafictional, so intertextual, so utterly black-polo-neck-and-goatee, it gives me wind.
For it is not Judas Iscariot that Archer seeks to emulate. As NTNOCN also put it, "It's clearly a mockery of our Lord..."
And who'd want to do a thing like that?
Update: John Crace encapsulates the whole thing to save us the embarrassment of buying it.