Indie book a month – I hate Martin Amis et al.

20 August 2012 / 1 comment
I hate Martin Amis et al. Peter Barry

Peter Barry’s debut novel I hate Martin Amis et al. can be summed up as ‘when rejection turns a writer into a sniper’. Milan has written four books and all of them have been rejected. Usually he receives the standard, impersonal rejection slip, but then he receives a personal comment, ‘Scarcely original. Feel I’ve read this before’, and this tips him over the edge.

His father is Serbian and although he doesn’t even believe in the cause, he goes to Sarajevo to become a sniper and to gather material for a book, that he hopes will be completely original and like nothing any agent or publisher has ever read before.

I was very lucky to have discovered this book as my first indie book a month. In fact, it is going to be hard for other books to impress me so much, but who knows – I may be pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, there are all sorts of gems out there published by small presses.

I hate Martin Amis certainly is a gem, but not the sparkling and polished kind, it is rough around the edges, slightly cracked and damaged. Milan is a complex character, spiralling into the depths of madness. He becomes adept at sniping, he shoots a boy and allows his mother to die slowly cradling her dead son against her chest – so that she feels the full brunt of the pain of losing her son. Milan’s only saving grace is when he leaves the farmhouse disapproving the treatment of the women imprisoned and raped there. He describes his fellow snipers at the farmhouse, ‘They were like vultures squabbling over carcasses.’

The story of Sarajevo is wretched, but what allowed me to actually enjoy the book was the understated, but perfectly timed, black humour and the tale of a writer who wants so desperately to be published. Milan is outraged that no one has spotted his talent as yet, and continual rejection has left him bitter and twisted. As someone currently riding the wave of rejection, I enjoyed Milan’s satirical diatribe against publishers and agents and especially the publisher’s reader.

Peter Barry won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2005, but it took him five years until Melbourne independent publisher Transit Lounge wanted to publish his manuscript. One can only imagine how much those subsequent years of frustration provided extra material for his book. Were publishers reluctant to touch this manuscript because they didn’t see the humour in it? Had they taken descriptions like these personally?

… he looked like he could be a publisher’s reader, one of them. Or that is what I told myself. He had that air about him, of complacency and self-satisfaction, of smug superiority. That got to me … I was certain he was a reader: he looked like a bookworm. He had the walk too; the kind of walk that says, I’m better than you, step aside, remove yourself from my path, I am on my way to pass judgement on some lesser mortal’s literary efforts.

This ‘publisher’s reader’ was the first person Milan shot at as a sniper. The ‘reader’ was unharmed, but his books fell all over the ground. Rather than running away, like Milan had expected, the ‘reader’ fumbled around picking up his books and fighting back tears. ‘Could the guardian of public taste have been reduced to tears?’ Milan wondered, as he hesitated, unable to finish off killing the ‘reader’.

But then Milan gets into the swing of sniping. The war in Sarajevo remains confusing, but Peter Barry explores the chaotic and random nature of war – the barbaric, uneducated men, attracted to fighting for causes they don’t even really understand themselves. And more terrifying, he explores what power does to people when there are no restrictions on how they should behave. Milan says ‘With an almost imperceptible movement of my finger, so tiny, so insignificant that even God might miss it, I can choose to snuff out someone’s life – or not. The power of life and death. Possibly it is no different to how a publisher feels about the would-be authors that pester him every day. ‘Was it twenty manuscripts I rejected today, or fifteen, or maybe thirty?’ Neither of us feels any guilt, I’m guessing. For both publisher and sniper, it’s a job, routine, the only people who may get a little upset are the rejected author and the wounded citizen. Or the wounded author and the rejected citizen.’

This is a book to be enjoyed by any wannabe writer, who has imagined their book on a bookshelf, and been devastated by those impersonal rejection slips. The setting is finely researched, the writing is sardonically witty and the plot is absurd, but somehow believable. And is exchanging a laptop for a gun the answer for rejected writers searching for an original story? Most definitely not.

A special excerpt for all out of print writers…
With permission from the publisher, here is one of my favourite rants by Milan about rejection slips…

… I know everything there is to know about rejection slips. Rejection slips are my metier.

They’re usually in the form of a letter attached by a paperclip to the front page of the manuscript. A standard printed letter. I don’t even have to read it … ‘Thank you for sending us your manuscript, thank you for having approached us, thank you for having given us the opportunity to view your material, thank you for letting us consider your work … We read your submission with interest … After careful consideration, we have decided it does not fit in with our list, we do not feel we would be the right publisher for your work, we see no possibility of the completed work being suitable for our list, we have to be confident of substantial sales before taking on a project … I fear we do not feel able to offer the representation you seek … I’m afraid that due to the sheer volume of material, owing to the large number of submissions we receive, as we receive around three thousand manuscripts a year … Regrettably, unfortunately, sadly …’ And so on and so forth, ad nauseum, ad nauseum. ‘We are unable to provide you with a more detailed response, we are unable to offer individual comments, we cannot give you a more personal response, we cannot offer critical comments … May I take this opportunity, may I wish you luck elsewhere with another house, agent or publisher, may I wish you every success in placing your work with another house, agent or publisher, may I, may I, may I …’

All of us would-be writers, all we want is something, anything that clearly shows that our books have been read by someone. Something, anything that says this letter is addressed to me alone, a letter that identifies my novel by its title and contains a few lines that will make no sense to anyone else: ‘We particularly like the start of chapter 2’, or ‘Your main character develops nicely,’ or ‘The scene on the beach is powerful.’ Something, anything that offers just the smallest ray of hope, the tiniest bit of encouragement. Something, anything that shows the manuscript has not been flicked through cursorily, fingered tentatively like some contaminated, soiled piece of refuse picked up at the municipal dump. Something, anything that demonstrates the publisher appreciates the effort that’s gone into the book, the blood, sweat and tears, the early-morning tossings and turnings, the late-night agonies. Something, anything … just something more than nothing.

If publishers and literary agents are only ever going to send out standard rejection slips, why wait three months to do so? Why don’t they return books within the week? Why go through the pretence? Why don’t they simply take the manuscripts out of their envelopes, transfer them straight to the stamped, self-addressed envelopes that have also been enclosed, chuck in the rejection slips, and toss the lot into the Out basket? … 

More about this book via Transit Lounge

View I Hate Martin Amis et al. on Amazon

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