Friday, November 23, 2007

Set text

Now that I have successfully self-published A Half Life Of One to a fusillade of ecstatic reviews and general rejoicing throughout the land it can only be a matter of time before the book becomes a set text in schools, colleges and universities, much like, say, Lord Of The Flies (to which it has been compared) or Finnegan's Wake (to which it hasn't).

I always hated exams. I am, as a result, sympathetic to the plight of the hapless students who will shortly be racking their brains for something intelligent to say about my masterpiece. I have therefore prepared the following crib sheet to help them in their scramble for exam points. Anyone who hasn't read the book (Note: I've seen the sales figures and that means you) should look away now in case the following revelations spoil their enjoyment of this literary tour de force.

1 The title A Half Life Of One is a reference to the radioactive decay of an organism as well as a pun on someone who, through their own fecklessness, only has half a life. (Note to examiner: A correct answer here is worth ten points. Anyone who compares the title to the sci-fi shooter computer game Half Life should automatically get half their marks deducted).

2 The book is a faint allegory of life under an occupying force such as existed in Vichy France during the Second World War. In the same way that ordinary people behaved badly then under enormous pressure so does the main character in AHLOO. (Note to examiner: This answer is worth 15 points provided the examinee does not stretch the allegory too far. Comparisons to Animal Farm should be marked down).

3 The main character in AHLOO is called Nick Dowty. Originally he was called Nick Doughty with his surname being ironic - he is anything but brave and persistent. The revised surname is a double pun - on both doughty and doubt (he is forever questioning the rightness of everything he does). The Christian name Nick is an homage to Hemingway's character Nick Adams. (Note to examiner: Award 5 marks for each correct part of this answer).

4 Reviewers have compared this work to The Bonfire Of The Vanities, Lord Of The Flies and unspecified works by Kafka. (Note to examiner: 3 marks for each apposite citation).

5 In the novel when the woman is kidnapped she is made to run to the car at the point of a gun. The author here echoes the way deportees to the concentration camps were made to run everywhere both to disorient them and to dehumanise them (they were treated as cattle). In the penultimate draft Nick Dowty actually screams at the woman in German but this was considered too unsubtle and revised into English. (Note to examiner: the examinee cannot possibly know this. Suspect cheating if this answer is given.)

6 The field of skulls is a parody of magic realism but also serves to highlight the strangeness of the landscape into which the woman is abducted (5 points).

7 The author has stated that he does not know what the buzzing sound is that emanates from the cottage in which the woman is kept. He maintains that not everything written in a novel is necessarily a "known known". However, accounts from the death camps report that after the poisoned gas was dropped into the gas chambers, prison guards outside would hear a sound like bees swarming which lasted for several seconds (0 points for this - it is simply something that everyone should know. About the death camps that is, the book does not matter).

8 The final chapter contains a parody of the end of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (5 points).

That's it. It simply remains for me to wish every candidate the best of luck. Your time starts now...


  1. Bill, Grumpy Old Bookman gave your novel a sweet review.

  2. I looked away, but I will come back to it! :-)

    And a sweet review by GOB! That must be good news! Way to go Bill.

  3. You're too generous, Pundy. A crib sheet? What a gift!

    Alright, so where do I get a copy of this born-to-be-a-classic of yours?