Dial S for


Sue Wilson talks to Nicholson Baker, pioneer promoter of fibre-optics as a sex aid.

Not many novels consist of a single telephone conversation, but then Nicholson Baker’s Vox is no ordinary novel, and its subject no ordinary phone call. Jim and Abby ‘meet’ on an adult chat-line and proceed to give a whole new meaning to the term ‘oral sex’ as they exchange private fantasies, intimate secrets, wildest dreams, abandoning themselves unrestrainedly to the joys of long-distance mutual masturbation.

In America, apparently, it’s a very popular way to while away an evening. Unlike here, where horny callers are restricted to recorded messages which (I’m told) uniformly fail to fulfil their lurid advertising promises, across the Pond you can call up a party line and talk dirty to your heart’s content, with the option of transferring to an electronic ‘back room’, to continue an acquaintance one-to-one. ‘The phone has always been a very sexually-charged

instrument,’ says Baker. ‘But previously there was no way for consenting adults to make use of this. Now, with these party lines, it’s become institutionalised - there are new billing systems and everything.’

Why, though, did he decide to turn one such phone-call into a novel? ‘Sex is a fascinating subject, there’s a lot to be said about it,’ he says. ‘The problem with most sex writing is that it goes through the same motions - different settings and characters, but when you get to the actual sex it’s always the same old stuff. But if you expand the sex scene into the whole book, then maybe you can find ways to refresh the process.’

The novel does create an extraordinary sense of intimacy, so much so that reading it actually feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation. Baker succeeds in creating two clear, convincing characters purely through dialogue no mean feat in itself. And while you could argue that a lot of people are going to buy it regardless of its literary merits, Baker denies simply choosing a subject which was guaranteed to sell. ‘The books which become bestsellers in America right now are about things like cats and back pain,’ he says. ‘And there are zillions of books written about sex which aren’t bestsellers. If I wanted to be cynical I’d probably write about cats with back pain having sex. The thing that works in any subject is originality, and that’s what 1 was trying to achieve.’


So, does it work? is it sexy? Well, yes and no. It’s undeniably seductive in parts, imaginations running riot as Jim and Abby describe every last sensuous detail of some dreamed-up bedroom scene. Reading it is a strange , voyeuristic experience whether that’s a turn-on or turn-off is down to individual taste. For this reader, the fact that the characters particularly Jim are enthusiastic users of pornography (in his case , a magazine called Juggs, among others) was problematic, although Baker denies that the book was intended as a defence of porn; it is, he says, just a story about two normal people who happen to like it.

But isn’t it all a bit anonymous faceless strangers swapping fantasies

Nicholson Batten ‘gives a whole new meaning to the term “oralsex

coast-to-coast? ‘Two people meet in i a bar, they learn each other’s names, they go back to a hotel room, have sex and don’t meet again that’s anonymous sex,’ says Baker. ‘These two know the interiors of each other’s minds at a level few couples reach; there’s a level of truthfulness to the fantasies they tell each other that doesn’t normally go on. It’s a love story; I intended it as a compressed courtship, but instead of getting married at the end he gives her his phone number— it’s still a betrothal of sorts.’

So what’s next? Sex by fax? Then again, that idea about cats sounded rather intriguing. . .

Vox is published by Granta al£7. 99.

Maus II In Goebbels’s inlamous propaganda lilms, Jews were portrayed as rodents, and in Art Splegelman's graphic novels Hans and Maus ll, the same metaphor is used, with two additions: the llazis are cats and the Poles are pigs. Lille its predecessor volume, Maus ll explores the author’s relationship with his Auschwitz-survivor lather Vladelt and, by extension, his own position as one at the “second generation'. By turns chillingly horrific and dlsarrnlngly comic, it deals with big subjects in a spare, lucid and seemineg ellortless style, and is lar more sophisticated than many popular novels drawing on the same theme. (Aaron illcidln) mus II is published by Penguin alts.”

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I Oxlam Appeal ()xl‘am has e launched their 50th Anni\ ersary Bring and Bus Appeal for books. “ith the aim ol shilling a million volumes and raising £5001“). People are urged to hand in their usedor unwanted books to their local ()xlam shop.


I Joe Donnelly John Smith cu Son. 57 Vincent Street. 23! 7-173. Wed l5. (i.3iipiii. The journalist and best-selling horror \\ riter \s ill read from and sign copies of his latest novel 'I'licS/n't' t('entur_\ “4.9%.

I Scotland's Music Waterslone‘s. I33 l'nion Street. ZZI 08‘)”. Wed 33. 7pm. Free b} ticket (as ailable from shop). A celebration of John l’urser's ambitious historical stud} .St'uI/uiid’x Music (Mainstream. £25). \\ ith a talk by the author. plus music. lood and \s inc.


I Writers' workshops Mothem ell District (’ouncil would like to hear from an} writers ol'short stories. poems. sketches. jokes and songs. who would be interested in joining their ‘scribhlc and shout'

\s rilingperformance group. ('onlael them on “(198 (ill I (iii ext 354‘).


- J08 Simpson “'aiet'slolle's. l3 Princes Street. 55h3li3-i. 'l’hurs 10.".3iipin 'l'hc mountaineer and (ireenpeacc .iclu isi \\ ill read from and talk about his liist um cl Hie il’un'r l’cup/i' (Jonathan (ape £13.99).

I Michael [)0an \\';Ile‘i‘\ltiiiL‘.\. 5.} ( it‘til I—IL‘ Street. 335 3430. 'l‘hurs In. 7pm. The author oi the best-selling lluuu'u/ ( mils will read lrom and sign copies oi his lollou-up. In I’lui‘ I/it' King

(llarpeif'ollins £9.99).

The List 10— 23 April 199265