Stewart Home’s “Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane” – an Anti-Novel Review

Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane: A Novel by Stewart Home (Penny Ante Editions, Los Angeles, 2013)

Read an excerpt from Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane.

Who reads Stewart Home? Home will say “very few, people are cowed by the malevolent society in which we live, they believe in its values for they have no other frame of reference, they fear it as they can think of nothing to replace it, they cannot question it for all questioning challenges its essence.” (It is very postmodern to say something for another; after all they may have said it, will say it or they may not have and never will. What is verisimilitude?). But no matter here is Stewart Home’s novel (or 245 pages of text).
The word anti-novel is always used when a novel by Home is reviewed, talked about, considered, analysed (and he is reviewed in erudite journals and newspapers; the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the New Statesman to name a few, he must be famous, egotistical notoriety is probable his second name, his not intrinsic nature). But what is the anti-novel? It is a question that is vexing.

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Is an anti-novel one which is badly written? Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane is not badly written, there are few grammatical errors and the paragraphs are evenly spaced, there are chapters with chapter headings, there is the odd spelling mistake but that, most likely, has to do with the spell check being programmed to English (US) rather than English (UK, or in this case SA).

Is an anti-novel one which follows no linear progression, has no real story, no beginning, middle or end? Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane does progress, there is a (kind of) story (despite there being no middle, beginning or end, one could start reading it anywhere). Charlie Templeton, or as he is also known, John Templeton, is a lecturer in cultural studies (cultural studies is, in these days of multiple cultures and consumer appetites, fashionable) at a university in the Northumbrian countryside (it is called City University, acronym CUNT, as young people want to live in a vibrant urban setting, so it is a city in the bucolic). He has not been promoted to professor so he is unhappy and determined to do something about it (and he is a drug addict so his unhappiness has multiplied into a many fold manifold obsession). And so he goes about, among other things: fucking his wife and his girlfriend, sometimes ex, and trying to fuck anyone else that he can pick up (not a lot of men, only women, he is gang banged by a gay rugby team but this is against his will, but then he isn’t anyway so it all works out). There is a lot of fucking (possible an anti-novel contains a lot of gratuitous sex) but the fucking is not erotic (even Brett Easton Ellis, to whom Home has been fairly, or unfairly, to Brett Easton Ellis or to Stewart Home, unsure, compared, has some, albeit not very nice and often gruesome sex, writes erotic sex, whereas the sex in Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane is not, there is no possibility of reading it over and over again in order to fantasise as one ponders masturbation). Possible the anti-novel is a text that has no appeal whatsoever. Charlie, or John, likes to fuck women who are unconscious, he gives them knock out drops and imagines that they are dead, it is the power that he likes rather than the act itself, domination can be quickly dealt with, so it is quick, over in a few sentences (I threw back the duvet, parted Mary Jane’s legs and tickled her clit with my tongue. I pushed my tongue between the lips of her cunt to lubricate the lady ……. I used my hand to guide my prick into her hole and proceeded to hump); proselytising to his students on, also among other things, slasher/zombie movies (Cannibal Holocaust, Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead III, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Day of the Dead etc.), good and bad movies, even ones that do not exist, music, (Camel, Caravan, the Clash, Pretty Things, Ike Turner, The Sex Pistols etc.), good and bad and some that does not exist, (Home is well known for his musical knowledge, particularly early punk rock and the music of the ’70s so there is a lot of this in Mandy Charlie & Mary Jane), exhibitions, mainly in London (Bas Jan Ader, Maya Deren, Ronald Nameth, Jud Yul Kut), who are these artists, are they are known to a Londoner, or do they also not exist?; how to keep well-toned by describing in detail a variety of exercises in a gym while watching pretty young things (they are always young, and always women, the culture is youth and women are things); managing a university as Charlie or John becomes a part of new management, this means lots of cuts both literally and figuratively, especially of superfluous lecturers, so that eventually John or Charlie both teaches and manages (he kills two birds with one stone so to speak), and of course delineates ideas on how to attract fee paying bourgeois students; making a movie on the degenerate and despicable way in which higher education has been maimed by a bourgeois conservative government (read society); this includes wide angled shots of murders, rapes and beatings; an analysis of the bombings by Islamic fundamentalists of the London underground and a mimicking of this by Charlie; and finally, (possible there is more but this is enough) the difficulty of obtaining a visa for hell and how problematic it is to stay there for longer than two weeks, there is a lot of red tape involved in getting into hell, paperwork, bribery, fake documents (much like trying to get from the developing world to the developed world). So there is a story, an anti-story. Really, the story is puerile, it has no real point and if one reads the book as a story the likelihood is that one will be disappointed.

But do not despair, for there is a lot more (more).

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Stewart Home in Bolinas, CA (of all places). Photograph by Rebekah Weikel

The writing is all about the messages that Home wants to put across, it’s part of his on-going project of critique, a critique of, among other things (once again): the exploitive consumerist superficial capitalist system which we take for granted as we have no alternative, our frame of reference is the mainstream, there is nothing outside of it, there is only subversion, the grotesque and the destructive; the manipulation and inequality in class, race, religious and gender systems; the obsession with a power that is so powerful/unpowerful it engulfs us. Home’s project for the uninformed is opaque, oblique; for the informed, it is yes, and yes. However regardless as to whether one is informed or uninformed the message will (possible already has) sink in. The anti-novel documentary is a litany of phrases, abstruse and invisible lists, tired and tedious axioms, the philosophy of music, movies, art works and performances, real and unreal, sometimes it is difficult to tell.

So what is the message, unless one casts the book aside after the first page, but then the message has already sunk in (literally), this reader is already the zombie that Home describes, the living dead reading to pass the time, reading because a good story satiates limitation, for this reader there is no message, this reader is the message? And if one does not cast it aside, one ponders and thinks, what one finds is that the anti-novel is an insolent challenge to everything that one knows; a work filled with plagiarism and appropriation, it flouts a society that cherishes the notion of individuality and originality.

Self-reflect for it is a nauseating and vile self-reflection.

—Barbara Adair