Monday, 5 October 2015

List of the Lost by Morrissey BOOK REVIEW

So the reviews are in- List of the Lost is officially the worst book ever written, apparently. It's an easy target, of course- anything written by pop artists is open to the accusation that they are dabbling in areas they don't understand. Why don't they just stick to what they are good at?  Posing in front of cameras, warbling into microphones in front of their adoring audiences and ferrying their entourage of chefs, hairdressers and roadies across European highways and beyond. How dare they presume to be able to write anything that lasts longer than two minutes when read out loud? It's not like song lyrics have to make any kind of sense to be successful- we've known that for decades now. And Morrissey more than many divides the critics.
But this is a book written by an artist who has had years of refusal; he refuses to follow fashion, refuses to listen to critics and refuses to play anyone's game if he does not wish to. This, it seems, is the book Morrissey had to write. And yes- it's really not going to be to many people's taste because it is not written for many people's tastes. I don't want to give away plot details but it is a grimly gothic read full of dark secrets and plot twists one should expect from a lyricist who frequently calls on death, whether it's by bomb, premature burial, gangster, serial killer or double decker bus.

It is easy to pick out the mixed metaphors ( 'the woods are an eternal ocean'), the strange choice of names (a runner called Ezra Pound ), the shoe-horned in rants about Winston Churchill, fat kids eating burgers, Thatcher, animal slaughter, police brutality, and the now infamous 'bulbous salutation' (although my favourite euphemism in the book is 'his manly central issue' which is a work of genius). But there is humour and humanity here and some astonishingly poetic passages - the trainer Rims has many great one liners, an unexpected family death is movingly described, and some of the more gruesome scenes are shockingly visceral.

Morrissey has been criticised for not engaging an editor to pretty up his words. It would have been the easiest job in the world to sanitise and repackage- chopped up into nice neat chapters, sentences hacked back to polite lengths, no more digressions, no more adventurous use of imagery, no more surprises- let’s not put the reader into that that uncomfortable position of having to make up their own mind. But Morrissey only writes as he has to write and nobody has to read it if they don't like it. It is a similar reaction that Morrissey's ' Heaven knows I'm miserable now' lyrics received in the 1980s, when it seemed like most people wanted to hear about tropical parties and girls on film. We will never know who's right and who's wrong when it comes to matters of taste but Morrissey appeared in retrospect to win that battle and maybe he will win this one too.

Morrissey's literary influences are well documented (and t – shirted)  and there is much literary and heightened, associative, stream of consciousness prose-poetry  here- possibly influenced by Elizabeth Smart, Jack Kerouac, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg- none of whom are particularly fashionable these days and none of whom have ever been easy reads- and all of whom have their many critics. I'm not arguing that The List of the Lost will take its place alongside any of these writers' works.  But what will be more important to Morrissey, I suspect, is that he wrote the book he chose to write, with the same bravery and passion in which he has approached all his lyrics (and indeed the bestselling 2013 Autobiography) without the 'forces of containment' editing him into artistic emptiness.

Lyn Lockwood

Lyn Lockwood is a teacher and writer living in Sheffield. She has been listening to Morrissey since she first heard Reel Around the Fountain on John Peel  in 1980-something.

List of the Lost is published by Penguin and is available in bookshops now.


  1. Intelligent, well thought-out and articulated review.

  2. Radcliffe and Maconie were kindly on 6 music today, or rather said the reviews they had seen has been good. I shan't be rushing out to buy it myself though, especially as it is rather slim.

  3. A really well written entertaining review.Its true Morrissey was never going to write anything conventional, because .. Well he's not conventional (thank god)To me it's a book that makes you think out of the box,which is what the best books are all about.I'll agree too that there are some hilarious one liners, and some lightbulb moments.

  4. Thanks for the great review. The second intelligent piece I have read so far - the other one is here


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