(CLASSIC: from Red Dirt Marijuana, Citadel)
These days Southern is best remembered for his screen-writing endeavours – hardly surprising, given that he had Dr Strangelove and Easy Rider on his CV. But his earlier prose works made him a favourite of the Sixties counter-culture cognoscenti: the Beatles put him in amongst the ersatz crowd on the cover of Sergeant Pepper. This story, from his 1967 collection Red Dirt Marijuana, concerns Murray, a young white American studying at the Sorbonne. He’s hopelessly besotted with Paris’ none-more-cool jazz scene. But when he’s befriended by a young black couple, Murray discovers there are strict limitations to how far his fascination with their lifestyle will go. Languid and funny, it’s marvellously evocative of its time and place, with nimbly-sketched characters. Murray’s proclivity for cultural tourism is satirised without mercy. Southern’s prose – deceptively light, masterfully precise – doesn’t take prisoners.
(MODERN: from Voice of the Fire, Top Shelf Productions).
Like Southern, Moore’s most widely known for writing in another field, namely comics. So far, his only full prose work is the 1996 story collection Voice of the Fire. Typically original and idiosyncratic, it contains interlinked stories from throughout the entire history of Moore’s home town of Northampton. This, the collection’s opening story, is quite breathtakingly ambitious. The eponymous dim-witted Stone Age man has been abandoned by his tribe after his mother’s death – in prehistoric Northampton, obviously. Poor defenceless Hob can’t help being taken advantage of by unscrupulous strangers with grisly intentions. It all ends in tears, of course. Most strikingly Moore tells the whole tale from Hob’s perspective, in his own words – that is, in an imagined, tiny Stone Age vocabulary that can’t differentiate between past or present, dream or reality. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be cringe-worthy show-boating. But Moore simply tells an extraordinary, compelling story in an extraordinary, compelling fashion. It’s quite magnificently strange and authentic.
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