Lew Collins unleashes Archie Lees and a disorderly cast of post-Iliadian characters in twelve dysfunctional off-battlefield-torn months of 21st century literary mania
‘Hackney’s Archie and Minnesota’s ellen are more than worthy successors to Pharsala’s achilles and sparta’s helen’ Homer
‘A heart-rendering tale of intolerable literary cruelty, a lone writer facing down secret forces hell-bent on lifting his prose’ Brontë sisters
‘getting to the truth on this sort of timeless conflict, corporate publishers equated WITH warring ancient greeks is better late than never, even if it means just more of the same for struggling scribes’ Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli
Joy and a Plum August 13, 2010 Journal of Experimental Fiction Edition No. 39
This book was finished when it was Finnished, printed and bound in Finland, bound for England, and bound to arouse curiosity on many levels. Following in the footsteps of old Dublin Jim, the writer draws from Homer the armature to build a novel upon. Rather than the Odyssey, here it is the Iliad, but the characters are as recognizable as Molly Bloom was as Penelope: Archie Lees? Achilles. Anthony Gamenman? Agamemnon. Menny Lowes? Menelaus. Ellen Spartan? The face that launched a thousand novels. Here, as in Homer, Ellen is a willing participant in her abduction and runs off, in this case, to rather than with Paris. What was really stolen here, however, is not just joy and a plum, not just one man’s babe, but rather, one’s man’s baby, Archie’s brainchild, his novel, stolen by Folio Publishing. So Archie infiltrates Folio in order to subvert the publication plans. The sections are written in a multitude of styles, the way old Dublin Jim recaps the history of literature by parodying, in the famous Oxen of the Sun chapter, the various styles of English prose preceding modernism. Lew Collins includes the modern and postmodern and takes on Anthony Burgess, Albert Camus, Jay McInerney, Ernest Hemingway, Don DeLillo, and dozens of others, including old Dublin Jim himself. The names of those parodied or homage appear in the acknowledgments. Droogs, strangers, the mysterious second person, fish, and JFK all populate the background of the mise en scene, all to delightful effect. Beneath this quixotic and playful novel that reveals a very deft hand at the pen is a significant novel that asks of itself the question that makes readers of lesser novels so often shake their heads: Does this work have any significance? Here we must emphatically nod. We are reminded exactly how enormous this artform can be, covering as it can any armature at all–from one repeated note to twelve-thousand pages of twelve-tone serial technique, from hastily slung handholdy storytelling to tangrammatically constructed transgressive metafictions. The ultimate postmodern novel is, after all, the interface of everything. And this writer points us there with joy and aplomb.
– Eckhard Gerdes, Editor Journal of Experimental Fiction and author of 21 works, including 15 novels
With tongue in cheek humor and a sly poke at genre fiction, literary untouchables and the publishing industry this book seems tailor made for smart praise. Even though I wasn’t able to pick out all the literary styles interwoven playfully within the book — and frankly at a certain point I was so into the story it didn’t matter — when I was able to pick up on an author or style it just added to the fun. Very impressed with the versatility of the prose and the ability to coopt all these writers and yet still make it all work within the story being told, a story that holds its own as a larky genre thriller with literary overtones and a lot of humor too. In the end all came off as clever parody. Especially enjoyed the “genre thriller” kick of the kidnapping and rescue of Ellen mirroring the story within the story within the story. Given the levels of literary byplay and the scope and ambition of the prose styles, the story is amazingly accessible. It even is a bit of a high concept as well — literary high concept (or highwire act) in which, while flawlessly speaking in all these different voices the book still tells a thoroughly enjoyable pulp story about stolen manuscripts and deferred vengeance in the volatile, cutthroat world of publishing. Making publishing a life and death enterprise is a nice conceit that allows all the tropes of detective and spy fiction to come into play and gives it much of its kicky fun. Bravo!
– Paul Duran, LA director & writer (Flesh Suitcase and The Dogwalker)
I found your book very refreshing…very readable but also so postmodern and referential. I delighted in your sources
– Richard Olafson, Editor, Pacific Rim Review
‘The most original book I read this year – utterly compelling postmodernism’
Can something be playfully and overtly postmodern and still be readable – driving you through a compelling plot? Lew Collins proves it can be done. Uncorrected Proof is a postmodern novel that entertainingly riffs on form, style, character, tense, person – but with an overall thriller/quest type plot appropriation, it folds you into its delicious bizarro metascapes and humorous oft-satirical, oft-homagical visions, incorporating stylistic elements of hard-boiled fiction, screenplays, cookbooks, metafiction, the spy novel, cyberpunk, the literary novel, A Clockwork Orange, Gaelic, intertextuality, memoir and so much more in a book that self-consciously satirises the entire book and publishing industry – authors, editors, publishers – literary celebrity, literary delusions, literary snobbery, literary stupidity and so on.
So what’s it ‘about’? Archie’s novel manuscript has been pilfered and plagiarized by Martyn Varginas, prolific mystery writer. Archie and his friend Cal plot a convoluted revenge through Archie getting work as an editor, and employing a re-plagiarisation of the book by a young hired-gun (or pen, as it were). What follows are kidnappings, political intrigues, sex, jaunts to New York and Paris (from London), Stake-outs, party crashings, a couple of book launches, boardroom drunkenness, author cameo appearances, mean streets, cop/spy banter, and a few disturbing murders.
I was completely absorbed in this book – somehow Collins makes it so easy to read, despite the switcheroos in style, and shifts in narrative drive and character motivation. The book’s title Uncorrected Proof displays irony – those not in bookselling or publishing may be unfamiliar with a ‘proof copy’ or ‘uncorrected proof’ – books that become available before release, oft-unedited versions of the final with spacing, grammatical and typing errors. This ‘published’ book, has a few (tongue-in-cheek) placed throughout.
The author has worked in publishing, and is actually avoiding traditional distribution methods for the book, keeping in the uber-hip underground spirit of the novel – with a well-handled guerilla internet and out-of-hand distribution system. I came across the author through Facebook.
This book proves to me that extraordinary talent can be represented through shunning traditional publishing methods. This book is inventive, imaginative, and inspiring. It is a unique publication. If you enjoy Italo Calvino or John Fowles, or if you also work or have worked in the book industry, even on the fringes, you would get a great kick out of this novel.
– Angela Meyer LiteraryMinded, author of A Superior Spectre
Publish Or Die! Review of Uncorrected Proof Pacific Rim Review of Books
Lew Collins’ Uncorrected Proof is a literary conceit so audacious and capricious, that to stumble just a little bit is to fall off the mountain completely, a high wire act that literally co-opts the style of dozens of literary untouchables and pop culture icons from James Joyce to Jimi Hendrix, Anthony Burgess to Andy Warhol, Ernest Hemingway to Quentin Tarantino (there are over a hundred authors and artists listed in the book’s acknowledgements starting with ABBA!). Collins uses each successive voice in his vast arsenal to tell the story of Archie Lee, the plagiarized author who schemes to get his novel back from the people who stole it – the celebrity novelist Martyrn Varginas, his greedy publisher Menny Lowes, and his man-eater of an editor, Ellen Spartan.
Using The Iliad as a starting reference point (in a deliberate cracked mirror image to Joyce’s use of The Odyssey in Ulysses), the novel playfully winks at Homer not so much for his epic poem’s style as for its archetypal tale of love, abduction and revenge. The characters all are sly doppelgangers for their Greek counterparts; Archie Lee for Achilles; Ellen Spartan for Helen; Menny Lowes for Menelaus and so on. But the book does not rely solely on post-modern mimicry or clever homage to keep our interest. It more than holds it’s own as a thoroughly enjoyable pulp story about stolen manuscripts and deferred vengeance in the volatile, cutthroat world of publishing. Making publishing a life and death enterprise involving kidnapping, murder and the CIA is a nice conceit that no doubt will give even the crustiest of publishing execs a knowing chuckle.
The novel starts with Archie out to expose his literary theft at the Crocker Prize banquet (read Booker Prize). He gets cold feet when he comes face to face with his nemesis Varginas and Varginas’ attractive editor Ellen. She unexpectedly offers Archie a position at her new imprint when he stammers out that he’s “expert with espionage thrillers.” From there the story follows Archie’s desperate scheme to wreak revenge from inside the publishing mecca using his newfound influence to try to get his original novel into print under the name of an opportunistic young hustler he has hired for the part. Nothing goes according to plan as the novel ricochets from London to Barcelona to the South of France to New York and back; from pulp crime to spy thriller, memoir to meta-fiction, screenplay to redacted text.
It may sound like a daunting task for the narrative to constantly shape-shift from one disparate source to another but the effect is breathtakingly kaleidoscopic and in most cases wholly appropriate (even the few typos in the book seem correct given the title). In truth it would probably take a tenured literature professor with a vast music and DVD collection to decode all the stylistic shifts in Uncorrected Proof but that’s not really the point. Given all the literary byplay and conceptual ambition, the story is still amazingly accessible, so when you are able to pick up on a particular author or style, it just adds to its kicky pleasure…a cautionary tale about ego and ambition run amok in a world where ego and ambition are the only character traits that seem to really matter. With no clear winners or losers it could almost be read as a twisted metaphor for our own troubled times, with the publishing industry standing in for Wall Street and the banks, where the “best and brightest” have had their way for too long and have grown fat on the bones of those crushed under their Gucci loafers and stiletto heels. Perhaps I’m reading too much into Collins’s remarkably varied prose, but the seeds of a revolution are there, if not on the economic front, then maybe just in the publishing house.
It reads like a splendidly maintained & protracted metafictional elaboration of the climactic shoot-out in the fun-fair corridor of mirrors at the end of Orson Welles’s ‘Lady from Shanghai’. I was glad to see refs. to ‘King of Comedy’, surely one of the last century’s vy best films …
– Tom Gibbons, Painter and writer of Rooms in the Darwin Hotel
Quite an extraordinary work. Initially the surreal plot threw me then I realized that the plot, the use of various styles and forms, present continuous, film scripts and cooking instructions etc, were creating a particular structure. Eventually, I concluded that it was some sort of a coded book, either intentionally or as some kind of experiment, which I failed to appreciate. Like most coded works, the book consists of two novels seamlessly interwoven. In this case the characters from at least one are able to inhabit the other. This is clear when you separate the two novels by the plot and other code markers. The two novels are quite different, and even seem to deal with different subjects and are sometimes contradictory. I have tried this coded thing but I used simple invisible multi-layering as you do when encoding engineering drawings. This form of yours is way beyond that. This is a very brave new world you have stepped into, or invented, a new realm
– Eric Willmot, Author of Pemulwuy and Below The Line
‘Uncorrected Proof’ could be seen as a labyrinthically shaped many-dimensional map, pointing above and beyond itself by showing mirrored images of other places in literary time and space