Top critical review
14 people found this helpful
on 20 March 2006
I just can't fathom the rabid enthusiasm for this book in those reviewers below. It's OK, but it's not great. To be honest, a year or two ago, I would have looked at this book - blurbed by publishers Faber & Faber as a "21st century beat classic" and shuddered, and put it down again. Not just because a formerly respectable (until they published GP Taylor) literary publisher has joined Disney Home Video in stretching beyond endurance the meaning of 'classic,' but because back then I thought of beat literature as a contradiction in terms: pointless, formless blah with an extra helping of chips on the shoulder. Now, of course, with the benefit of a couple of Bukowskis and Fantes under my belt, I know better. Beat can be beautiful.
But ironically, as far as The Giro Playboy is concerned, my decision back then would have been the right one. It's a charming - and charmingly produced - little thing, a ramble through a few months or possibly years (they all, like, run together) in the life of Michael Smith, in his late 20s. He goes to London. He returns to his home town. He goes away again. And then comes back. And all the while he witnesses and records the various eccentrics and low-lifes he encounters, and takes lots of drugs, and drinks, and bums around. And presumably the drugs and drink have taken their toll on his memory and/or his structural senses, because for all its whimsical charm, and some lovely scenes, The Giro Playboy is a mess.
Perhaps Faber were under the influence when they took it on, or intended it to be read like that. Or they were seduced by its 'underground' 'countercultural' qualities - Smith performs the book as a live piece and originally published it himself, in pizza-box format, if my memory is sufficiently unaddled - and forgot to check whether it was actually very good. Or indeed if there was enough of it: the book clocks in at 220 pages, but given that very many of these are faux-naive illustrations by Smith, and almost all the text pages are just half-filled, the actual page-count is more like 80.
So if it's beat lit you're after, stick with the big guys: there's more poetry in a page of Bukowski and better writing in a paragraph of Fante than in all of The Giro Playboy. If you're not sure whether to trust a reviewer, click "See All My Reviews" and you can find out more about their tastes generally, and make up your own mind from there.