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By Nick Hasted (26 July, 1999, Guardian (G2))
Stewart Home, ex-skinhead and cult novelist, knows how to make an impression. Anyone who has ever glimpsed the back cover of Blow Job, the novel in which he recycled the skinhead paperbacks of Richard Allen and other 70s pulp hacks, will remember that hard-eyed bootboy. Jimmy Cauty, of the pop group and art pranksters KLF, won't easily forget the magazine article that had the police ransacking his house, searching for a secret stockpile of video nasties and murder weapons.
But 37-year-old Home is more than a worryingly literary thug. The clearly fake Big Issue interview with Home's friend Cauty that led to the police's over-reaction, the various stung subjects of his broadsides, all are just random manifestations of a mind so constantly fired by nervous and intellectual energy, so prone to rants, reportage and hoaxes, that his friend Iain Sinclair called him `the Beaverbrook of the counter-culture'. In the 10 years since his first novel Pure Mania appeared, he has spawned a hardcore cult.
Titles such as Come Before Christ, Murder Love and Slow Death set his output apart. Calling his new novel Cunt has to many seemed one more calculated affront, its rejection by countless printers hardly a surprise. Read at speed, the novels impress with their jolting, disjunctive sensations, revolutionary diatribes spat out with giddy, exclamatory fervour. But it's another new work, Confusion Incorporated, with its cross-section of unpopular academia, obscure interviews and Will Self wind-ups that most approximates an hour in Home's company. Drinking cappuccino in a side-street near the British Museum, along which Iain Sinclair inevitably saunters, Home happily switches between mini-lectures on the false fall of communism, why the Sex Pistols aren't a punk group, and gratuitous references to expensive malt whiskies he hopes to blag.
Cunt, Home's `postmodern, picaresque novel', will only prolong the nervous stand-off between critics and Home, intensified by his making them prime targets for satire. His early skinhead image, unavoidably working-class, incipiently violent, must be part of why he in turn is thought beyond the pale. A teenage skin in 1976, he revived the look in the late 80s with just such intellect-freezing in mind.
`It always used to amuse me that people would take you on surface appearance,' he recalls. `They'd imagine you must be stupid and say things like, `Violence is bad.' I'd say, `Well, what do you mean violence? What defines violence and what defines legitimate force?' They'd look at you confused, because they thought you must be some kind of moron. To me, it was something quite trivial as well. I like a nice buttoned-down shirt and a smart pair of trousers.'
Equally notorious is Home's identification with Richard Allen, racist writer of skinhead novels and much else, one of the plagiarised sources of Home's own early work. Always at pains to separate his views from Allen's rancid pronouncements, Home now emphasises the other speed-written page-turners that shaped his teen years, especially Mick Norman's Hell's Angels novels. But, returning to that work in his thirties, his agenda had been transformed.
`It was very different than when I was 12, when I first read them. I went up the road to the old British Library, reading six in a day by the same author, and noticed whole passages repeated between books. That's what set me on the way to reading them as if they were Alain Robbe-Grillet, and treating the entire output as a single book - not just Allen, all the New English Library authors. I then tried to recreate the experience of reading six books in one day in a single book. I wanted the pulp rush and pulp speed, but cut against, say, chunks of Schopenhauer, classic surrealist technique. I didn't ever want to work just on the level of pulp.'
The final constant in Home's work is its obsessive traversing and describing of London. The borrowed heat of pulp, porn and polemic dies down when place names are mentioned; Home provides an outline of the city, a bare description to be filled in by those who know it. Raised in Merton, south-west London, at 12, when everything seemed to start, he began spending time in Soho, trawling book, record and comic shops.
It's when he remembers the self-erasing city he's seen that the wind-ups and barbs fall away. He bemoans the vanishing of wood merchants from Soho, the old blurring of business and bohemia in Commercial Street, the shaking of City gents' hands as they held their tea in cafes, downstairs from the prostitute they'd visited. For a quarter-century, he's been in love with the place. `I'm recording a London that's disappearing,' he says. `It's worth writing down.'
Still, there remain the hoaxes, the provocations that get under people's skin, raise hackles at Home's name. What are they for? His own amusement?
`No, no,' he demurs. `I think a good hoax says something about the culture. With Jimmy Cauty, I wasn't expecting him to be arrested, but it showed something about the police. There's an element of the `blagueur' throughout the avant-garde. I'm interested in the seriousness of what is not serious. I'm writing serious jokes.' Confusion Incorporated (Codex) and Cunt (The Do-Not Press) are out now.
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