like The Naked And The Dead and The Executioner 's Song. It just burns a little slower.
A retelling of the New Testament from the viewpoint of Jesus, The Gospel According To The Son is Mailer‘s 30th book. Reviews in his home country have been lukewarm to say the least. For the first time in his career Mailer is facing up to criticism that his writing isn’t shocking enough.
With six wives. two Pulitzer prizes and the ravages of the New York literary scene behind him. Mailer might seem the ideal candidate to ponder themes of temptation and redemption. There are those who say he’s been wrestling with them ever since the success of The Naked And The Dead (1948) propelled him into the first rank of American novelists. enabling him to treat the USA as his playpen.
There was also the prospect of a uniquely Maileresque Jesus. Critics have long speculated on Mailer‘s Messianic tendencies: the fact that he chose to write The Gospel in the first person made it seem ideal scouring ground for hitherto undiscovered clues about his personality.
Instead. what the critics found was a fairly pedestrian version of biblical events. Mailer’s Jesus may have more human frailty and doubt about him than most versions. but there’s no sign that he is about to leap into bed with Mary Magdalene. Well. actually there is. But the moment of Jesus‘s arousal at the sight of her is momentary and abandoned. Norman Mailer passing up a sex scene! No wonder the critics don‘t know what to make of it all.
‘The feeling I had was there were must be l()() writers in the world right now who could do better than these Gospels if they were to write it today. And I happen to be one of those 100 writers.‘ says Mailer. ‘lt‘s told intermittently well. and there are some extraordinary moments. but a lot of the time it just doesn‘t work. And one of the reasons for that is because it was written by committee.‘
A veteran of fame for near-on 50 years. Mailer remains apparently unconcerned about what the reviewers think. ‘lf you‘ve fucked up a couple of times. then yeah. you do pay the
'The feeling I had was there were must be 100 writers who could do better than these Gospels. And I happen to be one
of those 100 writers.’
price.’ he says. ‘But I don‘t cry in my beer about it. I used to when l was younger. but not now. Book reviewers live to bite someone. And the bigger your butt to start with. the happier they are. But I can‘t pretend to feel sorry for myself. 1 don‘t regret the life I‘ve had.‘
That life has never been the same since the 24-year-old ex-rifleman set about carving out the great American novel from his wartime experiences in the Philippines. Instantly hailed as a classic. The Naked And The Dead brought Mailer money. fame and success. All three have remained constant companions over the years. albeit to varying degrees.
He admits now it may have been too much too young. ‘Look at writers like William Kennedy or Cormac McCarthy.‘ he says. ‘By the time they got their success they knew the
value of it. In my case it was like being given a gourmet meal when there was no palate there.‘
Mailer‘s emergence as an icon of counter- culture — embracing everything from existentialism to free love — also meant that his explorations of sex and power were not confined to the page. His reputation as a womaniser has recently been given another airing in the autobiography The Last Party by one of his ex-wivcs. Adele. She was already guaranteed a place in literary history after Mailer stabbed her with a pcnknife at a party in 1960.
In a spoiling tactic probably designed to irk her former husband. Adele Mailer chose to launch her book in both the USA and the UK just weeks before the publication of his novel. Asked if he thinks the timing is intentional. he looks a little weary. ‘I don‘t think it’s going to sweeten the pot any.’ he drawls. Let‘s just say that.
‘lt has one detail that's accurate. which is that l stabbed her. Other than that everything I saw in the book was inaccurate. It didn’t anger me. It depressed me. She’s not a stupid woman and I just thought she could have written a better book.’
Unfortunately. the same could be said of
The Gospel According to Norman
The Gospel According To The Son by Norman Mailer is available now, published by Abacus at £14.
FROM THE LAST PARTY BY ADELE MAILER (BLAKE PUBLISHING, £16.99)
Above: Mailer with ex-wife Adele. The infamous stabbing incident. he admits. did happen
I' ll l5 . COS PE L ACCORDINQ TO THE SON
26 Sep—9 Oct 1997 THE U8T21