Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not Voodoo's Heroes of Prose: Peter York

So this is a feature that I've been thinking of doing almost as long as I've been thinking I should start reviewing films, and maybe trying to send them out to papers, you know, nothing ventured nothing gained, like since I was 16.

Heroes of Prose are people whose written style I particularly like. Some of them will be obvious, some less so.

First up is Peter York. I first came across his writing in the excellent REWIND. Your Art Buying department should have a copy, unless you're working at some tinpot Dog and Pony operation, in which case Westminster Library has a copy, and seriously, you need to move on, you only live once and life's too short to work with people that you want to murder etc., etc.

York (real name Peter Wallis) was ascendant in the 80s and has owned the decade, from a cultural commentary point of view, ever since. As style editor for Harpers and Queens he wrote a series of articles on modern British culture, which were collected in Style Wars (published 1980). He also published a book, which I don't own, but I remember my parents talking about, called The Sloane Ranger's Handbook.

As well as being a journalist he's a management consultant, and his writing has something of the best low-bullshit business lit about it. Not only do I, obviously, like the idea of someone taking popular culture, if not seriously, then at least seriously enough to write intelligently about it, but I also love his prose style.

According to his Wikipedia entry his idol was Tom Wolfe, but he's better than Tom Wolfe in that he tends to avoid the purple writerly stuff that most American authors after Updike see as their birthright. Also Tom Wolfe doesn't know what an occiput is because he's a fucking philistine.

Here he is (in Peter York's 80s, the book that accompanied the BBC TV series, which I picked up in a second hand shop for the princely sum of three pounds) talking about, of all things, B&Q:

Actually, B&Q were not just making a profit out of the self-expression craze, they were instrumental in defining the way we thought of ourselves as we went about our labours of creativity. The B&Q warehouse approach said it all: it was big, competent and businesslike, taking care of everything from itty-bitty brass screws to lengths of 5-inch diameter wastepiping to sprigged wallpaper to burglar alarms. And by extension, we too were big competent and businesslike. We knew we could handle anything from a window lock to a complete re-wiring of the upstairs because B&Q told us we could and let us have the gear, no questions, just as if we were real builders and decorators. What a change from the stuffed, accretion-filled hardware shops of our past, staffed by professional fifty-year-old sceptics in dun-coloured work coats! What a change after the horrors of the builders' merchants ('You can have it, but you gotta buy at least three hundredweight') It all fitted in with that heady feeling of change, experiment, no limits!

The long sentences, with their ease and fluidity make you feel as though you're in a conversation dominated by someone you'd like to keep talking to. There's a speed up, slow-down, speed up technique with inserted clauses. It's like he's drunk, but he's a really good drunk. A slack-rope walker, a raconteur. His lists, as evinced above, or here (writing about Bernie Madoff's home) are exhilarating - he's a materialist, but a soulful one.

Not afraid of the exclamation marks too you'll notice.

So, buy some of his books, comb your hair into a pompadour and go clausal.


Jeanette Krankie said...

like the feature! but if anyone posts their love for the prose of Iain Sinclair I will burn this blog to the ground

gareth wild said...

I don't understand what you're saying but I like the way you're saying it.

John said...

Please can we have one Jonathan Meades? I can't be arsed writing it myself.

Ben said...

In related news: