Ali Smith’s nymph This month’s short story by Ali Smith is “true” in two senses. It’s about the current demand for the cancer drug Herceptin, and it’s about the idea of stories themselves. The cancer aspect speaks for itself, but for readers who like to know their references we can reveal the full source of Smith’s parody of a discussion about whether the short story is like a nymph or not. It all started at the launch of the National Short Story prize in August. Press releases went out citing a remark made one day in the Prospect offices: “The novel is a capacious old whore: everyone has a go at her, but she rarely emits so much as a groan for their efforts. The short story, on the other hand, is a nimble goddess: she selects her suitors fastidiously and sings like a dove when they succeed. The British literary bordello is heaving with flabby novels; it’s time to give back some love to the story.” Observant readers will note that there is no mention of nymphs in this, only goddesses. But the particularly alert will also note that the nymph in Smith’s story, Echo, distorts everything she hears as she repeats it. She pulls it off neatly, and the pricking of Prospect pretensions is ever so gently done.
Prospect story writer going, going, goneBarely had Gautam Malkani’s story “Paki” hit the presses in last month’s Prospect than his first novel, Londonstani, was being fought over by publishers worldwide. It has now sold in Italy, France, Holland, Greece, the US and Canada. After a three-round bidding war, it was bought in Britain by 4th Estate for a six-figure sum. The novel is being rushed out here in May and in the US in July. It will be interesting to see how Americans take the gangsta rap-inflected British-Asian street patter. Congrats to Gautam. In the meantime, before the papers do a “Monica” or “Zadie” on the book, readers can get a taste of Malkani’s pounding demotic style—an Irvine Welsh for the Hounslow set—by reading his story on Prospect’s website: www.prospect-magazine.co.uk.
London theatres still gagging for a fagIn a last-gasp push against the smoking ban, the British theatre industry has been lobbying government for an exemption to cover actors smoking on stage. “And in the dressing room,” cry the actors, though the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Theatrical Management Association (TMA) have wisely focused efforts on getting an exemption for actors whose parts require them to smoke. The new health bill’s ban on smoking in all enclosed places of work would rule out Mrs Robinson lighting up in The Graduate, Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing bickering over a cigarette case in The Importance of Being Earnest and Jimmy Porter’s pipe in Look Back in Anger. This is not the first time theatres have spoken out against a smoking ban—earlier this year SOLT was forced to register an objection to two private parliamentary bills that would have outlawed on-stage smoking in London and Liverpool. These bills have not yet been withdrawn, meaning the society faces a battle on three fronts to preserve the right to light up on stage. Smoking has already been no-go on Irish stages since last year. Actors have resorted to holding unlit cigarettes, or to smoking herbal cigarettes which audience members reportedly find more noxious than the tobacco variety. In New York, actors can still smoke on stage, but only if the theatre has posted warning notices at the box office.
SOLT and the TMA have submitted written evidence to the select committee on health, but one London show has taken up the fight more directly. The production of As You Desire Me at the Playhouse surely breaks all records for on-stage smoking, with Bob Hoskins carrying on as though he alone has been charged with bringing a smoky atmosphere to the show and Andrew Woodall getting through so many cigarettes that at one point he finds it necessary to light up while making an exit.