erasing clouds

Book Review: Mortification - Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, Edited by Robin Robertson

by anna battista

Editor, publisher and poet Robin Robertson swears he got the idea for this anthology from all the times he organised a reading with a writer and nobody turned up. In such occasions, usually he proceeded to say he was sorry to the invited writer, but, at this point, the writer in question would just say that that was nothing compared to another reading in which he or she was actually humiliated or something tragicomic had happened. So, Robertson decided to collect all these stories of writers' humiliation in a proper anthology. Mortification, featuring anecdotes by 70 contemporary authors, was the result.

Mortification really features the worst experiences writers ever had in their careers, and will make you realise that generally writers aren't successful and terribly rich men and women, they're just ordinary human beings who suffer even more humiliations than actually ordinary people and are often humiliated by their own audience.

Among the others, the volume features Margaret Atwood having to deal with a book signing in the men's sock and underwear department of a store, Louise Welsh facing an elderly woman complaining about the lack of provocation in her reading, Chuck Palahniuk trying not to acknowledge members of the Cacophony Society making a mess during his reading and Patrick McCabe surviving a deserted event to present his novel during the Edinburgh Festival. More hilarious humiliation is ensured by A.L. Kennedy whose trousers simply disintegrate on her way to a reading, Alan Warner who ends up signing books which he didn't write, and Irvine Welsh's Wembley humiliation story involving a toilet.

Robertson tells his own story of humiliation in the preface to the book: he was once reading in a Manchester bookshop to very few people. His audience was small due to the fact that there was a big match being played in town that same night. While reading his poems, Robertson looked up over the heads of his audience and discovered a pair of buttocks pressed against the shop window. Another pair appeared, then another and another. Soon, he was mooned at by the Manchester United supporters outnumbering his audience.

Mortification is a weird experiment, but it's an entertaining book: when you finish it, you'll finally understand why writers often look with suspicion at their audience during their readings.


Issue 18, December 2003

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