New year, new blog post. It’s a strange time to be writing about anything right now, to be honest, but books always help, as does comedy. With a hat-tip to @maryannmarlowe, trying to write in the current climate does feel a little like this though.
All of which brings us rather neatly or awkwardly to Richard Ayoade (he in the IT Crowd clip above). In the first three parts of this blog series, I looked at the indexes to the parody memoirs of established British TV comedy characters Alan Partridge (I, Partridge and Nomad) and Steven Toast (Toast on Toast). I’m changing tack a little for the next couple of blogs (partly as I’ve run out of spoof memoir indexes to review for now) and I’ll be focusing on non-fiction books by current comedians – although ‘non-fiction’ may be rather a misnomer for this one. It will also be more of an overall book review than solely focusing on the index as the whole book is so, well, odd. But it is very, very funny.
The book Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey was first published in the UK by Faber & Faber in 2014 and has just been published over the pond this year by Faber & Faber USA. The author(s) and subject(s) is/are Richard Ayoade, an actor, director, presenter and writer, who directed the films Submarine (2010) and The Double (2013) and has appeared in such cult British TV comedy series as The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (which he co-wrote with Matthew Holness and directed).
Here’s a few of Ayoade’s actorly highlights from Darkplace (a spoof documentary about a ‘lost classic’ hospital horror show), in which Ayoade plays actor/director Dean Learner acting (badly) as Darkplace Hospital boss Thornton Reed. The clip also features such other comedy luminaries as Noel Fielding, Alice Lowe, Matthew Holness (as horror author/actor Garth Marenghi playing Dr Rick ‘Dag’ Dagless) and Matt Berry, who now also plays Steven Toast (see part 3 of this blog series). I don’t just throw this blog together, you know. (Well, okay, I do.)
The book Ayoade on Ayoade is a parody of the Directors on Directors series published by Faber & Faber, which included such auteurs as Hitchcock on Hitchcock, Scorsese on Scorsese and many more. Ayoade on Ayoade is itself published by Faber & Faber. It’s getting postmodern in here.
The book is structured in a number of parts, with Part 1 being a Chronology or timeline of the origin of ‘Ayoade’, helpfully dating back to the year 1488, and the bulk of the book in Part 2 being a series of ten interviews ‘in conversation with himself’, from the perspective of one Ayoade (in interviewer/journalist role) questioning another (as his film director persona). Each interview/chapter begins and ends with location and camera directions, as if it is a film script (‘Fade in’), and is set out as a dialogue between the two Ayoades. The book is full of self-deprecating humour, with interviewer Ayoade becoming increasingly exasperated by and critical of the evasive and pretentious interviewee Ayoade. The interviews are supposed to reveal a meaningful insight into Ayoade’s reflections on his cinematic legacy. They really don’t.
Right from the start of the book, from title page onwards, the book is littered with a large amount of diversionary footnotes,* which constantly break the flow of the text and send the reader to other places in the book, such as extra articles in the Appendix. The Appendix articles adopt a range of unusual formats, including diaries, emails, letters, scripts, text messages, tweets and quiz questions (‘True or false: Ridley Scott’s middle name is Didley?’, p. 215). Some of the footnotes themselves are lengthy and often deeply and deliberately tedious.** It must be a nightmare to read on a Kindle. This is no bad thing.
Part 2B*** also contains a collection of Ayoade’s ‘written output’, featuring sections of articles of ‘Ayoade on Writing’ and ‘Ayoade on Acting’. These sections include regular ‘Pause for Thought’ pages of questions for the reader (‘Are there any clues in these articles as to how Ayoade still manages to get work?’, p. 177) and blank ‘Space for Notes’ pages. (Some might call this padding. Who can say?) There are also words both of warning and encouragement for the poor struggling reader from one or other of the Ayoades:
Do not attempt to read these articles in one go. Take breaks. There are designated rest points for you to gather your wits and make notes. […]
Many have given up after just one of Ayoade’s articles. There is no shame in this. Reading any of this material is an achievement. (pp. 131–2)
Even the Appendix takes up some 80 pages out of the 320-page book. By the time the reader reaches the start of the Appendix though, they should at least have already read the whole book if they have been following the instructions in the footnotes diligently.****
And then we get to the index. This is only three pages long but most of the entries are really rather peculiar in various ways.
The main subject entry of the book, ‘Ayoade’ (no first name), is followed by 18 page-range spans which basically cover the whole book, excluding blanks between chapters:
- Ayoade, 3–6, 9–10, 12–19, 25–37, 41–9 , 53–66, 69–73 , 77–83, 87–92, 95–103, 107–9, 113–15, 119–22, 125–32, 135–63, 167–93, 197–207, 211–303
As noted in part 2, in indexing parlance these are known as ‘strings of locators’ and are generally frowned upon as unhelpful to the book reader. In a usual autobiographical index, such strings would be broken down into themed subheadings, e.g. ‘on acting’, ‘films’, ‘letters’, ‘on writing’. But we should have some inkling by now that this is far from a standard autobiography.
There are more personal details about Ayoade in the index but these are listed as main entries in their own right:
- chops (acting), 136
- foetus, thoughts Ayoade had as a, 26–8
- head, overall shape of, 167
- layers, Ayoade’s many, 176
- nasal, voice being, 27, 168, 246, 269
- odour, acrid body, 259
- sulk, prolonged, 12, 15
- teeth, 167
The book is subtitled ‘A Cinematic Odyssey’. One might reasonably expect to see lots of films, actors and directors listed in the index. Ayoade’s two films certainly are listed in the index:
- Double, The, 18, 19, 248–53, 254, 256, 258, 260–2
- Submarine, 16, 17, 18, 140, 242, 243, 244–5
However, what we learn about these films on these pages is perhaps not all we might have hoped. In the Chronology on page 18, we are told that in 2011 the Top Ten Grossing Films of the Year included Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I. It is said to be ‘a golden year for the moving image, with many films so good that their titles require a colon and a dash to convey their many levels’. Ayoade’s directorial debut, ‘Submarine, containing no punctuation in its title whatsoever, is a financial calamity’.
The discussions of the films take many different formats in the book, featuring notes on the art of adaptation (‘Screenplays tend to use bigger-sized paper than novels’, p. 140), reproduced emails and letters with agent and cast members, FAQs and an on-set director’s diary and workbook. There is also an ‘open letter to the press’ regarding Ayoade’s second film, The Double, wherein he offers a selection of ‘puns for use’ when reviewing the film. These include Seeing Double (a ‘basic pun’), Double Entry (a ‘risky pun’) and I’m Forever Blowing Doubles (a ‘somewhat desperate pun for tabloid use only’, pp. 260–2).
Other people’s films are given perfunctorily dismissive mentions in the text. The index gives an idea of the kinds of films discussed in the book, which confounds what one might be looking for in said ‘cinematic odyssey’:
- Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, 9
- Herbie Goes Bananas, 263
- Mannequin, 14
- Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, 9
- Scary Movie, reasons for existence of, 217
- Speed 2: Cruise Control, 119
There is a light sprinkling of actors, performers and TV stars in the index, again perhaps not those that might be predicted:
- Edmonds, Noel, 146
- Gere, Richard, late-period work by, 248
- LaBeouf, Shia, 63
- McConaissance, 252 [i.e. the revival of Matthew McConaughey]
- McGregor, Ewan, accents of, 182, 241
- Mr T, 168, 169
- Urban, Keith, 121
And a few – very few – fellow film directors:
- Burton, Tim, refusal to fully endorse, 45–9
- Fellini, Federico, 97
- Howard, Ron, 12, 97, 98–9, 267
- Malick, Terrence, 12, 225–32, 233–5
That’s about it for directors. And only one comes out of it well:
AYOADE It’s actually a quote by Fellini.
AYOADE He’s a director.
AYOADE Good for him.
AYOADE He’s dead now.
AYOADE Don’t blame me.
AYOADE Are you interested in the greats of cinema?
AYOADE I like Ron Howard. (p. 97)
Actually, that’s not quite all, folks. Steven Spielberg also appears in the index by virtue of a quiz question, but not filed under his name:
- birth control, Steven Spielberg’s preferred method of, 214
Nicolas Cage is in there too, from Ayoade’s dream diary, but is not found under ‘C’:
- sand (in Nicolas Cage’s mouth), 139
What does appear a lot in the index is various random mentions of food stuffs and drinks:
- cola bottles, fizzy, 13–14
- Cream Eggs, 31
- grapes, squelchy, 260
- guavas, bombardment of, 267
- kievs, chicken, 190
- lemon, excessive squeezing of, 260
- Lucozade (amount that’s safe to drink), 71–2
- nectarines, pelting with, 267
- onion, 87, 91, 92, 107
- puddings (custard-y one and a lighter one), 190
- salad, beetroot, 91
- Shakey Jake (milkshake), 3
- sushi, inability to make, 136
- Tia Maria, 255
Rather more foody than filmy then.
Most of all to be found in the index are just many, many strange things:
- alarms, egg-shaped panic, 122
- Argos, expired voucher for, 121
- barcodes, partially digested, 44
- dew, mature stag glistening with, 255
- door, who should answer, 202–3
- guff, inexhaustible tub of, 126
- gust, moonlight, 268
- Hour of the Wolf (the fact that it takes place between around 3.00 and 4.00 a.m. and whether it was appropriate to state that fact), 3
- luxury goods, big box of, 169
- mechanically closing door, power-slide under a, 249
- misfire, sophomoric, 260
- pescetarian, bitter feud with a, 254
- rom-com, mid-apocalyptic, 174
- romp-com, mid-apocalyptic, 182
- sheep, ten billion gently gavotting, 249
- toy, prolonged dispute over a, 54
- war (particularly between children and adults), 42
The food, drink and random odds and sods can all indeed be found as imagery, phrases and passing mentions on the pages given but they aren’t at all what a reader would ever think to look up nor what these pages are actually about (as much as this book could be said to be about anything) – and ‘aboutness’ is the very key to helpful indexing. It’s another example of the surreal fun in playing with the traditional book format.
Ayoade on Ayoade is weird, hilarious, infuriating, exhausting and sometimes an almighty struggle (rather reminding me of the eternally unfinishable Infinite Jest). It’s one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I love it.
I’ll leave the summing up to Ayoade, or Ayoade, in his/their text message exchange.
You’ve achieved so much.
What excites you?
Peace excites me. I excite me.
Numerous things. I keep a wide span.
I like to span the totality of humanity.
I’m a spanner of totality.
Or a total spanner?
* Like this one, which contains nothing of extra interest. Annoying, isn’t it?
** For example: ‘The whole flow of this work requires your co-operation, and that means going to the Appendix as and when I tell you. I don’t know who you are – I now accept that there’s probably not an effective way of vetting readers as to their suitability – but please show some basic humanity and fulfil YOUR obligations just as I will fulfil MY obligations to YOU.’ This appears at the foot of the author blurb in the prelims on page ii. You can’t say he didn’t warn you.
*** Or not 2B?
**** As an Ayoade says: ‘If you’ve been reading this book correctly, you should be done by now. Congrats. Have a candle-lined bubble bath. Skip to p. 301 for a final adieu. If this is the first time you’ve been to this section, you’ve failed me (see note on p. ii). Please re-read the book again properly’ (p. 209).