Book review: Morrissey can't write for toffee – and here's the proof

Former Smiths frontman has provoked hoots of laughter with his debut novel

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 October, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 October, 2015, 12:01pm


In the interests of fairness, I try to avoid looking at what other people have said about a book I'm reviewing. With Morrissey's List of the Lost, sadly, this was impossible. As soon as it was published, the internet erupted with the sound of a thousand guffaws. Articles quickly appeared with titles such as "Morrissey's debut novel: the 10 most embarrassing lines ".

The mirth focused on a sex scene that made reference to a male character's "bulbous salutation" and a female's "otherwise central zone". The book became bookies' favourite for the Literary Review's bad sex award. There was also a huge sense of disappointment - it was even worse than feared.

So what is the novel actually about? Having slogged through the longest 118 pages I can ever remember reading, I am only slightly clearer than I was at the start. There's a four-man American track relay team: Ezra, Nails, Harri and Justy. They kill someone in the woods. Someone dies. They dig up a body, prepare for a race. And so on, all written in a sludge of assonance and alliteration, like a bad James Joyce impersonation.

What haunts this dreadful book, and the coverage it has received, is that between 1983 and 1987 - some would argue into the 1990s - Morrissey wrote some of the great British pop lyrics. The Smiths' songs were plaintive tales of yearning, and at their best, his words have a wonderful curt poetry. Sad, romantic, unmistakably British. Simple themes - love and loss - gave force to the jangling guitars.

The book is not without glimpses of the old powers. "There were tears in the eyes of the boy who wouldn't cry" could be straight out of a Smiths song. But they are flashes of quartz in grey paving.

Morrissey can't be blamed for believing in his own brilliance. But those who brought this to print should be ashamed of themselves. At a time when the traditional fiction market is under attack from all sides, publishers need to reassure us that their judgment is still valuable. This fiasco of a novel does precisely the opposite.

List of the Lost by Morrissey (Penguin)

The Guardian