Only Disconnect

This was published on the Flux magazine website on 13 November 2009:

Only Disconnect

Andrew Gallix on this year’s new literary model

“All of this intellect stuff is fine as a consolation (which is how it developed in the first place: Socrates not being Alcibiades),” claims the narrator of an early Toby Litt story. He has a point, of course. Jean-Paul Sartre, for instance, famously confided that he had become a philosopher in order to make up for his ugliness and attract women. Conversely, ghostwriters keep churning out books for celebrity airheads in search of intellectual credibility. And then there’s Gavin James Bower. The author of Dazed & Aroused is the stuff publishers’ wet dreams are made of: a model turned writer; Socrates and Alcibiades rolled into one. “I’m too pretty to be a serious novelist but not pretty enough to be a top model,” he aphorises, “I have no consolation.” Call me jealous, but I have no sympathy.

Bower is far more than just another clothes horse who can string a few sentences together. He started putting pen to paper when he was still reading history at university. Among his influences, he cites Fitzgerald, Burroughs, Ellis, Marx, Sartre and Camus, but also Flux magazine editor Lee Taylor, who gave him his first break: “He was one of the first people who got me excited about being a writer myself”. An internship at Dazed & Confused took an unexpected turn when he was encouraged to go into modelling rather than journalism. After a year or so, his career went the way of the “skinny-jeans-and-winklepickers look,” but not before it had provided him with enough material for a stunning debut novel.

Having walked the (cat)walk, Gavin James Bower can talk authentically about inauthenticity. Alex, the narrator and anti-hero of Dazed & Aroused, slides down the surface of things, barely batting an eyelid when he is fellated by his father’s gorgeous girlfriend. In a rare moment of insight, he realises that the “nauseating truth” about a world in which anything is possible is that nothing is also a distinct possibility. The key to the book probably lies in this oscillation between surfeit and emptiness. Instead of leading to objectivity, Alex’s psychopathological detachment conjures up nightmarish dreamscapes — unreal cities — in which glamorous models are for ever tripping over the vagrants who litter the streets. From the ranters whose messages are always incomprehensible to the news bulletins invariably watched on mute, information overload leads to communication breakdown. The protagonist is bombarded by messages — via leaflets, billboards, freesheets, bumper stickers, graffiti or even fridge magnets — but they remain mere juxtapositions. On Oxford Street, for instance, he passes two men holding placards: “One sells Jesus to passers-by while the other advertises a buffet lunch deal”. The only point, if there is one, is that everything has been commodified. Gavin James Bower describes his character as a “personification of the capitalist social relation — an estranged individual who exploits others and refuses to connect to anything”. Yet, in spite of all that, he remains strangely alluring. Even when it comes to coke, the devil has all the best lines.

Dazed & Aroused is published by Quartet Books.