on 29 September 2000
GN does his usual thorough job of examining enclosed worlds and mini-societies with their own rules and mores, as he did in The Food Chain, and what happens in the transition period as outsiders gain entry, and go thru various rites of passage. Gregory Collins, even in his down-to-earth 'northern man' persona, is a self-confessed grotesque, and when he is asked to supply a jacket photo for the cover of his first novel, he enlists the help of Mike Smith, a colleague from university whose mugshot Gregory covets as a selling point. This preoccupation with image heralds one of the book's central obsessions and begins a deception that leads Mike into the shadowy world of a modern Bedlam, Brighton's Kincaid Clinic, where he finds himself, most of the time, a willing prisoner. GN examines the vanity at the heart of writing and celebrity, and the opportunities both afford, and what's more does it in a style honed now to perfection, tho never slick. Bedlam Burning is a story that builds up thru sadness and frustration, but its bright humour busts out at just the right moments. Set in the 70s, when we were on the turning point of cynicism and irony and could still distinguish between the wirthy and the worthless (when there was still, to quote Mike, a 'perverse principle' to the burning of certain books) there is a refreshing approach to the movements and images of the times that rescues the book from being a mere period piece. Great stuff.
on 11 October 2000
It would be easy to allow the humour of this book to conceal some serious things that lie beneath the story. Things like identity, madness and coprophemia (which is not defined in my Concise Oxford but is in this novel). Michael Smith, who is good looking but not very talented, is persuaded by Gregory Collins, who is talented but not very good looking, to let his photograph go on the jacket of Gregory's novel. Apparently you sell more if you're good-looking. Then he is persuaded to pretend to be Gregory at a reading in a Brighton Bookshop. However, no persuasion is needed when he is asked to be Gregory Collins, Writer-in-Residence, because as a job it's obviously better than working in a bookshop. Even if the residency is in a lunatic asylum. Geoff Nicholson is one of our most underrated comic novelists who consistently delivers, and they are pretty thin on the ground at the moment. I look forward to the day when will we have a media host who, in GN's words, "makes his author feel relaxed enough to let their guard down; and if they're...modest, reasonable, then all well and good. But if they start being precious or pretentious or glib, then I fillet them, gut them and hang them out to dry."
on 9 February 2001
This is Nicholson in top form. I read it in two sittings--and if I could have stayed awake that long, would have read it in one. A clever, witty look at many things: the '70s, sanity, treatment for the mentally ill, fetishes, literary precociousness, fame, identity, just about everything. Even Nicholson's weakest books are better than most other writers'. This is one of his best.
on 16 September 2000
As an ardent Nicholson fan (so much so that I live in New York and pre-order his books in the UK as soon as they're announced-can't wait that year delay for the US release), I can confidently say that this is my favorite from his highly satisfying catalog. This book contains all the Nicholsonian elements you count on; obsessiveness, hilarity, ugliness, kinkiness ( a stirring glimpse into the world of Coprophemia) and respectful nods to literary history.I don't want mention too much of the storyline, I would hate to give away even one of the many dazzling twists, but I will say that it's his most intricate and fulfilling plot.I'm already re-reading it.