FICTION:

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, 1979:

Moment of SilenceA Moment of Silence was my first published book and my first adult try at English narrative (though I’d scribbled about ten notebooks-full of thrillers in Israel, between the age of 15 and 18, in both Hebrew and English). It was written after the experience of making my third documentary film, To Live in Freedom, in Israel and the occupied Palestinian areas during 1971 and 1972. It proceeded as a series of “memory exercises” in which I tried to recall things as they’d happened and set them down…

A small London publisher, run by an Irish leprechaun, Tim O’Keeffe, who had once discovered the manuscript of Flann O’Brien’s classic The Third Policeman under the author’s deathbed, took it on… Tim later became my agent and placed my three Blok books with their respective London publishers. He was the quintessential “Good Publisher” of a now bygone age, when the writer was The Artist and the publisher was the facilitator of the work… It was a risky project for a small press, and of course made no money, though it did get a few decent reviews…

From Books & Bookmen, Christopher Hitchens, March 1979:

Born of first-generation Zionist immigrants… (Simon Louvish) had to spend many sweaty days in the occupied territories, discovering that not everybody regarded Israeli occupation as a boon. From this point he tracked back through his own family traditions, and his own native ideology, to find out about the Palestinian problem, a problem he had been trained to think sv did not exist. He writes with ease and irony, and does not spare himself the thought that his critique may be self-centred or irrelevant. ‘Jewish self-hate’ is the usual insult thrown at Israeli dissidents, and some of them half-suspect that in their own cases it may be true… As Louvish points out, other nationalities can oppose their own governments without endangering their own identity… Louvish’s book is really an attack on chauvinism, and a cry of disgust at its very existence among Jewish people who have themselves suffered so much as a result of it… Louvish realises there is an ‘original sin’ in Israel, that of the Palestinian refugees it created. He knows that there will be war until this debt is paid off… A reminder of the persistent Jewish radical tradition.

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THE THERAPY OF AVRAM BLOK, 1985:

Therapy of Avram BlokTHE THERAPY OF AVRAM BLOK was my first “proper” published novel, and was begun after a long period of attempts to publish short science-fiction type stories in various magazines. (Adventures which later formed the basis of the 1990 novel Your Monkey’s Shmuck.) About four years had passed without publication, with piled up rejection letters often stating: If you write anything commercially publishable please let us know. I became so enraged at this that I decided to write the most commercially unpublishable narrative I could think of, on the theory that this would paradoxically form its attraction to some enterprising publisher. Lo and behold, through the ministrations of my ex-publisher and now heroic agent, Tim O’Keeffe, a berth was found at William Heinemann Ltd. But not for long…

The Jewish Gulliver – Gillian Reynolds, Punch, May 15, 1985:

Here’s a great fizzing parcel bomb of a book. Imagine a Jewish Gulliver’s Travels. Or a Candide from Jerusalem. While you’re at it, remember your Heller and Vonnegut for this is a modem political satire on an epic scale, guaranteed to offend and enrage, to make all save the most effete and illiterate roar and whoop and weep with laughter… Louvish pegs things out on the line. Here’s capitalism, looking a bit holey, and Marxism, (as seen in our day,) no less tattered, Zionism needs, and gets, the irony at full steam. The style is packed, allusive, bubbling with gutter utterance, shiny with intellectual muscle. The jokes rain down on you. You live in Blok’s world not just because the artful author has snared you there but because you know it as surely as you know your own nightmares…

A true humorist restores proportion. Louvish, by creating a world pelted by perplexities of every size, does just that.
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THE DEATH OF MOISHE-GANEF, 1986

Death of Moishe GanefSavage Levity – Jonathan Keates in The Observer, 8 June 1986:

Moishe-Ganef’s corpse lies sprawled on the bed at the Edenvale Hotel, Russell Square, with a bullet-hole in the left temple. But then maybe it isn’t him at all. That things are scarcely what they seem is a sine qua non in the world of Joe Dekel, former Israeli intelligence agent whose cynicism has hardened into a resolute detachment and for whom opting out has become an unending and obssessive manouevre. Dodging responsibilities, whether as friend or compatriot, can only carry him so far, and this time the shadow of involvement falls even more grimply.

Simon Louvish’s latest assault on Middle Eastern ethno-politics, provocatively subtitled ‘A Levantine Tale,’ is patently designed to infuriate those for whom the Arab-Israeli conflict is a simple matter of trumpeting national loyalties or rubber-stamping magic peace formulas. The whodunnit cliché of the opening is merely a detonator for the writer’s savage laughter as he hops frenziedly to and fro among the lumber of broken promises, wasted impulse, brutishness, cupidity and the degenerate pieties of race and religion… Everything gets in, from Sabra and Chatila, Six Day War hubris and Abu Nidal to cassocked spies from Greene territory and hyperventilating Muslim irredentists. The landscape is that of the military scrapheap which the disputed frontiers have now become and the mood one of comic despair, sustained by a flow of chirpy one-liners which readers may feel a need now and then to beat off like a plague of mosquitoes. Louvish comes into his own as a satirist rather than as a stand-up comedian, with an enviable gift for making hardened Zionists and PLO cheerleaders squirm…

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CITY OF BLOK

City of BlokWilliam Collins & Sons, 1988

Flamingo paperback 1989

CITY OF BLOK was supposed to be my third novel for Heinemann and was part of a two-book deal with THE DEATH OF MOISHE-GANEF. However, by the time I had completed the novel, the publishing company was in the throes of one of those life-and-death corporate makeovers which involved the sacking of most of the senior staff… In the melee the book was turned down… All seemed lost, and the manuscript began a long and melancholy trudge from one publisher to another both in Britain and the USA.Eventually, Tim O’Keeffe came once again to the rescue and found it a place at William Collins, Britain’s most venerable publishers. So Blok could be relaunched…

Madness Now and to Come –

Bryan Cheyette, The Times Literary Supplement, October 14-20 1988:

Rather like a Jewish One Hundred Years of Solitude… City of Blok concentrates specifically on the heady years of Israeli nationalism which reached a new peak with the election of Menachem Begin in 1977 and the Lebanon War in 1982.

It opens with Avram Blok- “The Man with No Past” – leaving his Jerusalem asylum (his place of refuge in The Therapy of Avram Blok). Forced into the maelstrom of Levantine politics, Blok encounters Jewish fascists, Palestinian resistance, and Israeli Peaceniks – in short a world “composed of a thousand splinters”. Rather like Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth’s alter ego in his recent series of novels, Blok illustrates the dangerous blurring of fiction and reality which occurs in a city like Jerusalem-or, even, Newark, where, in Louvish’s words, “the past has taken over the present”. Louvish is rather more frenzied than Roth – though no less humorous – but, unlike Roth, he excels as a political satirist in the school of Heller and Vonnegut. The form of City of Blok, moreover, imitates the “fractured” society into which Louvish’s persona is plunged. A consistently developing narrative is replaced with a random collection of stories, anecdotes and unconnected episodes (which even include the adventures of a ferocious pet cat). “Babel” is the title of one of Louvish’s chapters reflecting an absurd world where all voices – meaningful and meaningless – are equally valid…

Louvish’s intention, clearly, is to reproduce contemporary history as if it were pure fantasy. Was there really a televised State burial of martyred skeletons, many thousands of years old, found recently in caves in the Judaean desert? And, if this were true – and it is – then perhaps there was a secret assignment by the Department of Apocalyptic Affairs to track down a sheep made radioactive by Palestinian guerrillas… This makes reading Louvish particularly terrifying. For he has probably anticipated – better than anyone outside Israel – further madness to come.

The Daily Telegraph, Julia Neuberger, April 1, 1989:

… It is outrageous, it will offend the religious, it will cause trouble among Zionists and anti-Zionists and particularly among psycotherapists, and it is full of passages in extremely bad taste, which still – albeit gruesomely – make one smile. The writing is very self-confident, very sharp and full of bad language. This is not for the delicately stomached, nor for those who cannot bear the Jewish novel. But if Roth makes you laugh, Louvish will make you clutch your belly in hysterics. It’s very, very funny.

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THE LAST TRUMP OF AVRAM BLOK

The Last TrumpWilliam Collins & Sons, 1990, Flamingo (paperback) 1991

Avram Comes Up Trumps – New fiction by Norman Shrapnel, March 8 1990:

The Last Trump of Avram Blok is the sort of hold-all novel almost anything can go into, and most things do. Simon Louvish brings his much-travelled star to set in the West, though you still feel his correct address (as children used to write in their books when they had them) is London, England, Europe, the World, the Solar System, the Universe… And so on, and so on. School of Rabelais, you might say, topped up with William Burroughs. Louvish has a liking for great lists, putting you in mind of free Association games played on outlandish journeys. The travelling is cosmic enough, heaven knows,. yet you find yourself thinking more of, the Central Line (last stop Ongar) and what on earth, or beyond it, would happen if the exuberance switched off like a power failure, landing you for ever at Barkingside or Hanger Lane.

The fear passes. Things keep moving; the tube takes off among the tree tops; we find ourselves in an extended reverie, a brilliantly stocked databank, a decidedly un-commonplace book. What continuity the novel bothers to have derives from the cinema, with Louvish’s camera eye eccentrically covering the world with documentaries, B-dramas and H-nightmares, bleeding chunks of news and history before homing on “this dull and drizzly land”, Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. It’s a fat book, constantly struggling to get fatter. Can that vital fuel, its cosmic energy, hold out to the end? It can; it does.

Financial Times, Wendy Brandmark, March 3 1990:

Simon Louvish knows no fictional boundaries. The latest in his Avram Blok novels is a manic, lewd, hilarious journey through London, New York, Los Angeles and Israel during the 1980’s, the decade of despair. The hero, a disenchanted Israeli and ex-mental patient, is in self-exile from his “homeland,” more a state of mind than a place. He witnesses all the terrible and absurd events of his time, from the protests at a nuclear missile base in Vritain and an atomic explosion in the American desert, to the mass suicide of a religious sect in California. Yet he retains his now revolutionary values of justice and compassion, his faith that the meek, the poor and the deranged will inherit the earth.

Avram may be a passive misfit but his creator and mentor writes with mad energy and bravado, his language an assault on the complacent reader. Louvish is both a fabulist and a compulsive list-maker, piling detail upon detail until we cannot fail to make the right connections: so in The Last Trump of Avram Blok, he shows us the detritus of the “good life” in London, circa 1983, lists the settings of crucifixions past and present. And if the frenetic syntax, the quick scene changes make our heads whirl, well, that is Louvish’s intention.

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YOUR MONKEY’S SHMUCK

Your Monkey's SchmuckFlamingo, 1990, original paperback.
YOUR MONKEY’S SHMUCK derived from the set of old unpublished short science-fiction type stories I had spent some years sending around to various magazines without success in the late 1970’s. They were companion pieces to a full-length novel, The Planet of Fuck, which has never seen the light of day – yet! Eventually Flamingo bought into the idea of working a mad tale around these stories. But the real irony of all this crazy stuff is: it’s not really a work of fiction!! Sometimes the facts really are very very strange…

The Guardian, Tim Radford, April 26 1990:

Simon Louvish, is a breeze, fanning aglow the dog-ends in literature’s gutter. The hero of Shmuck (no, I won’t explain the title: the joke is too awful) is a would-be pulp writer, camped in New York, surviving on bagels, chutzpah and other people’s goodwill, and writing with vicious energy and an appalling imagination, shlock so awful that even the worst magazines wouldn’t print it if you paid them (the book is dedicated to “all those who suffered the slings and arrows of Rejection Slip Shock”). There is a story of sorts, something Mean Streetish about a disappeared friend, a worried ballerina and a couple of cans of film. It serves as a skewer upon which chunks of justly-rejected manuscripts are threaded. The total effect is modestly nourishing, wonderfully tasty and faintly nauseating, like a spicy kebab. Thrill to King Kong and the two dropout Sloane Rangers, making up a harmonious menage a trois (well, a quartre if you count the ravished elephant). Chill to Drekula, the self pitying Jewish vampire on the run in New York (“People die of ‘flu jabs every month. I should be the one they are hunting?”).
Warm to the startling private eye, equipped with an enormous pecker, woops, beak and a Panatella in his wing tip (“Hey man” I said pointing before I could stop myself. “You’re a fucking chicken.” “You’re hired,” he said, not a feather ruffled… ) Spare yourself the chap discussing philosophy with his own turds (yep, they answer back). Cheer the bland, po-faced letters of rejection that arrive in every post (Dear Author, good fiction demands strong believable characters … ) Feel your toes curl up at the story of Winnie the Poof and his chum Faglet. Get hooked on the tangle of dreadful sf, awful disaster movie and squalid thriller involving Bernardo Pratt the pusher who swallows a miniaturised spacecraft caught up in his spaghetti bolognese and …

Mercifully, hardly any of these stories is ever finished. There might be a serious purpose behind all this, but who cares? It’s a treat. Buy it.

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THE SILENCER

The SilencerBloomsbury, 1991, original paperback
Interlink Books, Brooklyn, NY, 1993, hardback & paperback.

Once again, boringly, I was ejected by my previous publishers, William Collins, as they became transformed into the Rupert Murdoch Moloch HarperCollins, amid the usual “night of the long knives” and disappearances of senior staff. Again, my editor at this house took fright and locked me out of the building, strewing garlic all over the doorjambs in case I climbed back in and infected him with my low sales. I fell down, however, on Bloomsbury, and, in the same year, as Tim O’Keeffe withdrew from active duty, found a new agent, the parfait gentleman David Grossman, who has handled my work from 1992.

From The Observer, Nicci Gerard, 23 June 1991:

A crackling, deafening contagion of ideas, words, characters. On one level, The Silencer is a political thriller – but this is a level quite beyond my reach. Ten different plots seem to have met and quarrelled. Joe Dekel, one time novelist, Israel’s only religious anarchist, and now sent by his paper to cover an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Conference in New York – stumbles into a plot crawling with agents and double agents, all out to get him; when he emerges at the other end, it’s not quite clear how he shook them all off.

On another level, though, it doesn’t much matter. Like a fire The Silencer is bright and fierce. Louvish’s verbal wit, his passionate despair and his love for a country that has continually betrayed his hopes burns the plot to tinder and feeds off it. Read the book not for a story but a voice: a clear, loud, furious denunciation of the madness of our times; ‘the headlong rush into fear and loathing, the soured compassion, the blindfolds, the suspicion and terror, the trickle-down greed of the political classes.’

The New York Times Book Review: Spies & Thrillers, by Newgate Callendar,
June 27, 1993

Some books are next to impossible to categorize. Espionage plays a part in THE SILENCER, by the Glasgow-born Israeli author Simon Louvish… and so do satire, humor, political analysis, Israeli-Arab relationships, the meaning of Jewishness, the terrors of religious fanaticism (Israeli as well as Arab), Realpolitik, Surrealism – you name it.

One other aspect of this unusual novel – it is brilliantly written. When Mr. Louvish writes, he stings… The antihero of this book is an Israeli journalist named Joe Dekel. At the New York meeting he is approached by a mysterious figure who calls himself the Silencer. It is his job to see that Dekel’s books will never be published in the United States. Dekel is too liberal, too critical of his fellow Jews. Indeed, he is a traitor.

Dekel, by happenstance, is the sole witness to the East Side murder of a noted Jewish community leader. He is grilled by an F.B.I. man who quotes extensively from Lewis Carroll (in fact, there is an “Alice in Wonderland” quality throughout the entire book). Back in Israel he is – for reasons he cannot comprehend – caught in the middle of a conflict between the ultra-right and liberals. At the end there is a lengthy, complicated explanation. But explanations are not always answers. Dekei and his wife await the birth of their first child: “In a short while. God bless, there will be a new voice; asking questions, probing; protesting, grumbling, griping, nagging, noodging, carping, complaining and criticizing, refusing to take no for an answer.” The Joe Dekels ofthis world will never give up. “Unplug your ears; and let the cries all echo,” he exclaims. “Just let them know you’re not having it. Don’t ever let time run out!”

(The Silencer was marked as one of the New York Times “Notable Books of the Year” in the December 5, 1993 issue of the New York Times Book Review.)


RESURRECTIONS FROM THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY

Resurrections from the Dustbin of HistoryBloomsbury 1992 (original paperback);
Published in the U.S. by Four Walls Eight Windows 1995 as
THE RESURRECTIONS.

This book was in fact my second written manuscript, after A MOMENT OF SILENCE, but took ten years to get into print. As a fan of the “alternative history” genre of science-fiction, I wondered how one could make it more grounded in actual politics. The result was that the level of research threatened to overwhelm the book, and I could never quite solve the familiar S-F problem of the background swamping the characters. Oddly enough, the book seems to have established some kind of presence in the genre, and is still Out There, in its US edition…

New Statesman & Society, Yael Lotan, 17 July 1992:

Suppose you have just come back from spending three years in the Kalahari desert, living with the Bushmen, without a radio or other contact with the outside world. You land at Gatwick and pick up the papers and blam! you know you’ve slipped into an alternative history. Something happened while you were away. This simply isn’t the timetrack you were on in 1989.

Having eliminated the possibility that it’s a dream or an elaborate leg-pull, you start tearing out your hair. What is all this? Sarajevo? St Petersburg, for crissake? American millionaires taking pleasure jaunts in MIG 29s? Nelson Mandela, speaking from his official residence, declines to meet with President de Klerk to discuss constitutional reform? A Texan midget is running on his own to the White House and will probably get in? Germans regret unification? The Sunday Times is about to publish Goebbels’ diaries? …

Simon Louvish plays some neat tricks in his latest novel. It turns out that Germany became a Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1930s, causing the leaders of the Nazi party to flee to the US. The second world war didn’t happen, and in 1968 Britain and France are still putting down the restless natives in the colonies. Fascist Italy, under the senile Duce, is fighting in Abyssinia, where Ernesto “Che” Guevara is leading the rebellion. The President of the US is old Joseph Kennedy, who is grooming his sons to follow him, while the American Nazi party, led by Joseph Gable – aka Goebbels – is promoting US-born Rudolph Hitler, son of Adolf, for the race to the White House. Trotsky is alive – in the Kremlin. The California coast is a radioactive waste, following a Japanese nuclear strike. In April 1968, Mr Hermann Goering died peacefully in Chicago, aged 74, after a long career in the “American party”, which had put Papa Hitler in the US Senate.

But plus ca change – it’s still the same chessboard. The central psychosis of our time, nationalism, dominates this time-track too. A Polish colonel by the name of Chmielnicki takes Gable/Goebbels to a fascist camp in the Silesian townlet Oswiecim (German name: Auschwitz), whence he can look over the frontier at his beloved Fatherland, dominated by the Red Beast. A short-lived revolution in Italy is crushed by the same forces we associate with the name Guernica.

This is a hallucinatory experience. Louvish has put in a tremendous amount of research and the “real” and “imaginary” are so skilfully interwoven as to make the emerging world-picture no less convincing than whatwe believe happened since the early 1930s. There was no more reason for the National Socialist party to come to power in Germany in 1933 than there was for the USSR to collapse in a messy heap in 1991. The causes of both surprising events are endlessly analysed post-factum, but that does not make them plausible in the sense that Macbeth’s destruction or Ulysses’ victory over his wife’s suitors are plausible.

Without the second world war and the genocide of the Jews, Louvish’s little Zionist community in Palestine is still struggling for political independence, parallel with the Arab anti-colonial movement Where this leaves the author, who in another time-track grew up in Israel, I cannot figure out…


WHAT’S UP, GOD?

What's up God?A Romance of the Apocalypse.
Gollancz, 1995; Indigo (Gollancz) paperback 1996.

WHAT’S UP, GOD? was conceived as a fiendish plan to get myself back into publishing by writing a series of quickie, crazy books with potty titles, under a pseudonym, such as Vishnu Loomis, or Mark Treble. It turned out that my ex-editor from Bloomsbury was now ensconced at Victor Gollancz, but could not publish my unquickie tome, THE DAYS OF MIRACLES AND WONDERS, because he was not allowed to take on any book of more than 250 pages. (Mon dieu!!) Thus he suggested trying out WHAT’S UP, GOD? under my real name. Alas, the world was not yet ready to bestow bestsellerdom upon the enterprise, and my ex-editor soon became ex-Gollancz too. Easy come, easy go.

From the Church Times, Mike Starkey, 18 August 1995:

“We appear to get the apocalypse that we deserve,” reflects one of the characters in this anarchic, irreverent novel. Each generation has had its own visions of the end times – Bruegel, Dore, Dante, Michelangelo, et al, each reading into the parousia their own contemporary obsessions. Louvish’s version, God help us, is `90’s junk culture writ large across the screen, even as the end credits of history roll. The Day of Resurrection is set for 30 April 1999, and Judgement Day precisely one week later. President Quayle is in the White House, and Prime Minister Gummer in No. 10. The countdown to the final trump and beyond is seen from the standpoint of Jerry Davis, a failed stand-up comedian living in London. He watches, bemused, as the earth is deluged with an army of petty, bureaucratic angels with computers. News of the great event is broken, not in flame across the skies, but by the Archangel Gabriel interviewed on TV by Jeremy Paxman. To the end, hapless humanist protesters line the streets bearing placards: “Democracy not Theocracy”, “God go Home.”

What’s Up, God? is written in a kind of breathless, mid-Atlantic slang. The result is something akin to Bladerunner meets The Great Divorce, with a script written by MTV. The playwright Ben Jonson emerges from his grave thinking only of his stomach; the resurrected Karl Marx belches repeatedly. Gratuitous obscenities abound…

Louvish, a tutor at the London International Film School, is widely read and is an acute observer of human mores. He has his finger on the pulse of a disillusioned generation: this is a parousia without hope or excitement, without so much as a cameo appearance from Christ. The basis of Judgement is left open but appears to be being true to oneself. The question of God himself is left fashionably vague. Strange, since this ought to be his show… At the end of the day, Louvish’s revelation reveals little more than the shallowness of so much mid-1990’s mass-media-saturated society. Pity our culture. Even the resurrection of the dead has become an excuse for jokes about farts and erections.

Mike Starkey is soon to be Priest-in-Charge of Brownswood Park, London.

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THE DAYS OF MIRACLES AND WONDERS

Days of Miracles and WondersAn Epic of the New World Disorder.
Somerville House, Toronto, Canada; Canongate, Edinburgh, U.K., 1997
Canongate paperback 1998. Interlink Books, USA, 1999 (paperback).

THE DAYS OF MIRACLES AND WONDERS was a very difficult book to get published, and was regarded with fear and loathing by about twenty odd British houses, flaunting their rags in a period of Great Shaking which saw several independent publishers bite the dust. My editor at Bloomsbury had been fired (in their jargon: “relocated to work at home”!!!) and other potential soft touches had gone to ground or had put up their own For Sale signs. Eventually rescue came from an unexpected source: Canadian editor of a Toronto poetry magazine, Descant, Karen Mulhallen, who had a personal imprint at the Canadian Somerville House. This tied in with a deal with Canongate Books in Edinburgh, and a US outlet through the Palestinian publisher of my previous book The Silencer, who was now based in Massachusetts. Thus I finally hit the small presses, with my largest volume to date…

Literary Review, by John Murray, September 1997

ALL THERE:
The key dramatic point in this rich, exuberant and poignant novel is the abduction by Syrian agents of a Greek, Christian doctor, Petros Angelopoulos, who is visiting old friends in – wait for it – East Lothian. Previously he had been working in harrowing conditions in a Palestinian camp in Beirut, zestfully enduring eighteen-hour days patching up all those mutilated by the Amal militia. Dr ‘Angel’ is an outstanding comic creation. Faithless to women but faithful to his patients; a cheerful pessimist, who whiles away his blindfolded incarceration with tender memories of passionate love affairs.
‘An endless web, woven with everything that was, and possibly everything that will be. Each field with a built-in memory derived from self-resonance with its own past. Thus we first learn about ‘morphic resonance’ (there’s nothing new under the sun), the structural framework of this comic, apocalyptic and brilliant political satire.
‘Morphically resonant’ with Angel’s abduction is the parallel snatching from Fontevrault, France, of the crusading monarch, Richard the Lionheart, by Aziz Khamash, the Christian war-lord and ‘Butcher of Beirut’. Richard has risen from his tomb, only to be whisked away to Beirut, to be grilled by Khamash’s occultist parents about the apocalyptic future of the Druze.

What is really impressive is the way Louvish’s knowledge of Lebanese politics, and the underpinning eschatologies of the warring sects, leads him and his characters Tewfik and Angel towards a compassionate, bird’s-eye view of the whole sorry picture. The author grew up in Jerusalem and is a Scottish Jew who is obviously pro-Palestinian.
This is a very angry satire, but it also attempts to understand the fanatic occultism of the Druze and the hard-line Rabbis. Indeed, Louvish’s panoptic sympathies are very similar to those of Simon Stylites, the pillar-dwelling anchorite who is also a key historical player in the book.

Equally impressive is the way the author manages to incorporate lengthy political discussions and large chunks of newspaper quotations into the fabric of the novel. These passages might have read like cut-price Aldous Huxley, were it not for Louvish’s compassionate anger, excellent comic dialogue and razor-sharp one-liners. His versatility allows him to construct authentic monologues by characters as diverse as Saddam Hussein and the lovably sour Baruch Blok.

As well as political anger, Louvish expresses a profoundly spiritual anger. He is well versed in the genuine spiritual ideals of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which is why, like Simon Stylites, he has an overarching view of the Levantine tragedy.

As for technical versatility, Louvish manages the whole range, from black descriptions of Angel’s gory craniotomies, to a decorously compressed comic prose when satirising American art colonies, London publishing, East Lothian, etc. On one page he has the sober, spiritual clarity of the proclamations of the new Mahdi; elsewhere, he does his satirical scenesetting with a skilfully truncated syntax reminiscent of J P Donleavy. For a writer with so much talent he ought to come across as a show-off, but his self-deprecation is all of a piece with the remarkable graphics that scatter the text: Simon Stylites’s excrement-disposal machine and Israeli gas masks, to name but two… This is a very important novel by an extremely gifted author. It’s too good to win the Booker prize, but I’m sure Simon Louvish doesn’t give a damn about that.
(A nice thought, Mr Murray, but, alas, we are all mortal… S.L.)

The Scotsman, Ian Bell, 12 April 1997

The Days of Miracles and Wonders… all but defies precis, and is all the more exhilarating for that. It has high ambitions and high comedy. There is a serious point to be made within it about the West’s dealings with the Middle East but the real delight of the book is the way in which the most unlikely elements are cajoled into a plot. Sometimes it runs out of control but even that seems somehow logical, most of the time…
Louvish, born in Glasgow and raised in Israel, is an exuberant writer. He embraces the unlikely, picks ideas and language from all points of the compass and all stages in history. The Days of Miracles and Wonders is constructed like a mad tapestry, linear yet far from straightforward. It is one of the things a novel can be when an author decides to abscond with historical perspective… Nevertheless, the novel proper vindicates itself. There is a self-belief in the writing, like an hallucination made plausible by conviction. This sort of historical fantasy is extremely difficult to pull off if only because of the many changes in register it necessarily demands. For the most part, Louvish succeeds triumphantly. Most novels are not animated by ideas, whatever their authors like to imagine. Here the prose is more than just descriptive or informative. Rather it is a mirror of the imagined experience, history as it is lived.

This book is deserving high praise. When fantasy makes absolute sense, when the irrational provides convincing evidence for reason, a novelist can claim to have earned the name. Louvish is at the height of his considerable powers.

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THE COSMIC FOLLIES.

Cosmic FolliesBlokbooks/ICA, 2004

From the Book Blurb:

“The Cosmic Follies is an attempt to commit, in a business-oriented medium, a grand work of experimental fiction, for the reader who might be exhausted by the tide of “comfort fiction” and commercial pabulum, and be prepared to embark on an extraordinary inner journey, set in the streets of New York City. Mo Smith, a homeless vagrant, walks northward along the crowded island of Manhattan from the southern tip of the Battery. Multiple voices, multiple personas, shifting identities and multiple tales accompany his stubborn journey. Narratives collide with each other, external characters intrude, and the age-old dramas of East and West impinge on the great towers of capital…”

The Cosmic Follies was the most difficult of my novels to publish, as it transgressed, from a commercial point of view, on several counts at once: Complexity of narrative, politically dangerous subject-matter, and length – at 544 pages, the longest tale I have tried to tell so far. When I began writing it, in 1993, it seemed that a theme that ties in the diversity of metropolitan New York, in the year of the (first) Trade Center bombing, and the chaotic confusion of the Middle East’s past and present, was an esoteric, if not obscure concept. Today, this no longer seems the case, but there are still “popular” and “unpopular” ways of approaching this explosive subject… In any case, up to the beginning of 2004, no mainstream commercial publisher wanted to touch the book, not even with asbestos gloves.

The book was finally published in June 2004, as a collaboration between my own short-lived imprint, BlokBooks, and the ICA – the Institute of Contemporary Arts (link) in London, to whose directors I am grateful for their faith in such a risky venture.

Many copies are still available from storage!!! Buy now while stocks last!

From The Independent, July 7, 2004,
By Julia Pascal

There is a crazy conceit at the centre of this narrative, if there is any real narrative at all. Mo Smith, Simon Louvish’s hobo-hero in his novel, is host to multiple personalities who not only cross gender, skin colour and religion; they also jump time. Mo is also Arnold, a Wasp author who lives under Smith’s Adam’s apple. Arnold shares body-space with Ann, a hermit who sleeps behind Mo’s eyes. Muhammed Ibn Battuta is a medieval traveller who moves around Mo’s bloodstream. In the right lung is Jesse, a first-century Essene; in the left, Lincoln Korombane, an exiled pan-African activist. Between the shoulder blades lives Pharaoh Merenptah, son of Rameses II, who gets into Mo after flipping out of his Luxor tomb. Mordecai, a medieval Jewish doctor, free-floats; whereas Beatrice, a dominatrix, lodges in Mo’s stomach. Jaime, the gay prostitute, inhabits the tramp’s colon, crawling out to trade ass on the Manhattan streets. This is not Six Degrees of Separation but nine wackos in total disintegration.

So far, so meschuggah. Mo Smith is Moses, is Adam, is Everyman/Woman. He is you. He is me. He’s black and he’s also God… Louvish’s prose is high on the hyperactive monologue. It lurches from Kabbalah to rap and ends in hieroglyphics. This anarchic style is an hallucinogenic exploration of life on the New York streets. Underneath its wild, scatological exterior is a serious attempt to show how we schlep history around with us, even in our profound ignorance.

Louvish, a Scot who lived in Israel as a young man, is an atheist left-wing Jew whose writing absorbs the fall-out between life in the Middle East and the West. His book’s style is so active, so fast, so intellectually stimulating that, despite its meanderings, there is a fearful symmetry and a way of seeing the world which makes you dread to sleep. Yes, Louvish brings in too many characters, especially towards the end. Yes, he sometimes seems to have lost his own plotless plot. But The Cosmic Follies is a terrific read by a fascinating writer.

Jewish Chronicle August 20, 2004, by Arnold Brown

Emerging from the labyrinth of underground tunnels on to the streets of Manhattan, where the mighty dollar rules, a homeless black African, Mo Smith, embarks on an incredible odyssey through time, space and civilizations. In a series of ongoing intensive dialogues, psychiatrist Caroline Dexter establishes the fact that the vagrant is suffering from multi-personality syndrome. This was brought on, he claims, one purgative night, “in which a chain of revulsions culminated in the Creation,” following which there were “cataclysmic explosions of all nations from his inner being.”

Among the many fantastic voices that inhabit this tortured mind are a best-selling author, the Pharaoh Merenptah, a disciple of the ancient Essene sect, a Pan-African activist, and Mordechai, a medieval Jewish doctor.

Is Mo Smith an idiot-savant touched with genius or a mere fabulist trying to fool the world with esoteric knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of poring over books in the New York Public Library? This savagely funny novel provides no ready answer as Mo’s imaginary characters begin to impinge on the “real” world of the psychiatrist and her circle of liberal companions. These include a pair of friends, one Arab, one Israeli, who happily co-exist in the Big Apple while bitterly regretting that similar harmony seems so unattainable in the Middle East. The story freefalls into murder and mayhem, when a shady private eye arrives on the scene to search out the truth behind the myriad manifestations of the central character…

No Louvish novel is complete without a political edge to the comic farrago. And, indeed, all of this takes place in the wake of the carnage of the attack on the World Trade Centre and, later, the mysterious disappearance of all 24 passengers from a geodesic dome hovering over Long Island.

At the end, with Mo Smith still clinically deranged as he continues to try and survive on the harsh streets, the message from Louvish is that the dispossessed of the world will always be with us, despite our reluctance to acknowledge their squalid existence.

This sprawling novel with its soaring leaps of imagination and incisive wit is a fine addition to the oeuvre of an uncompromising writer, unafraid to take on the intellectual challenges thrown up by history, ancient and modern.

(Arnold Brown is a comedian, now appearing at the Edinburgh Festival.)

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