Ellis Sharp: Twenty-Twenty
If you have been wondering how Ellis Sharp spent the covid lockdown, then this is the book for you. If, as seems likely, you have not been wondering about his lockdown activities then this book is about Sharp and his life in 2020. Do not let let that put you off as metafiction is the name of game, as Sharp channels Uwe Johnson‘s legendary Jahrestage (Anniversaries), which I can highly recommend, though the print edition of the two volumes runs to two thousand pages. (Sharp only seems to read the first volume.)
Basically, as with Johnson, we get a day-by-day account of his 2020,a year when covid started and was spectacularly badly handled by the authorities (another Johnson) in the UK.
The book, incidentally, is dedicated to Frank Key of whom Sam Jordison said Frank Key can probably lay claim to having written more nonsense than any other man living. He was also one of the early publishers of Ellis Sharp.
Sharp – he calls himself Ellis in this book – discusses various things throughout this book. Firstly, he is reading the first volume of Anniversaries and tells us a lot about what he is reading. In my review of Anniversaries I said that In addition to his newspaper clippings, Johnson freely throws in dialogue, notes, random musings, authorial commentary, descriptions and other techniques. The same could be said, more or less, for Sharp.
He finishes that book and moves on to others, sometimes giving us the titles and sometimes not. For example, he reads William Faulkner‘s Sanctuary, without mentioning either Faukner or the title of the book. He reads a book that he tells us he is not reading for pleasure, though he finally tells us it is by Leon Uris. Given his obsession with Palestine/Israel/Zionism issues,I am guessing it is Exodus. He reads Saul Bellow‘s Humboldt’s Gift but, at the end of the book, tells us he is reading another book he does not name which is clearly Bellow’s final novel Ravelstein.
But let’s start with the mundane. Sharp tells us what he is going shopping for. He tells us of taking his baby daughter out in her pram. (There is, presumably, a wife/partner, but she barely gets a look in.) The daughter, we learn,is called Narissa, but she is invariably referred to as the child. She will appear throughout the book, learning various words under the guidance of Sharp.
He tells us what he watches on TV, including various films.He tells us of the music he listens to. Given that it is the likes of Van Morrison. Bob Dylan, Roxy Music and Rod Stewart, we must assume that Sharp is no longer a young man. No rap or hip-hop here.
Still on the routine issues, what he does not mention is interesting. As mentioned, his wife barely gets a look in. He does not seem to have a job (maybe she does?) If he is spending his time writing, he does not mention it. In the good British tradition, money is vulgar and not mentioned. (Johnson has no qualms about mentioning money. The word money appears 369 times in the first part of his diaries and the word dollar eighty times.)
But we do get serious. Again, unlike Johnson, he has access to the Internet. Johnson quotes extensively from The New York Times, about such issues as the Vietnam War, race issues in the USA and a whole host of other current political events. Johnson uses the collage technique, i.e. it begins with what appears to be a news item, followed by a second paragraph describing what was happening in his life , the third paragraph is a news item, and so on. Sharp does more or less the same thing, though, of course, focussing on different topic.
His Vietnam War, if you will, i.e. the political issue that most concerns him, is Palestine. He is very critical of Zionism, Zionist supporters not only in Israel but in the UK and US (Tony Blair is a favourite target), and the Labour Party’s deliberate attempt to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
The Labour Party leadership elections are taking place, to find a leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn, and Sharp damns all the candidates, not least because of their support for the idea that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism and that the Labour Party is riddled with anti-Semites, for which there was and still is little evidence. He is not too flattering about Corbyn.
His criticism extends to the media. The Guardian, (a rancid Blairite in-house journal) nominally the only liberal print newspaper in the country, comes in for special criticism for its pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn stance and other positions which Sharp does not approve of. Indeed, the only newspaper he seems to buy is the right-wing, Murdoch-owned The Times (only on Saturday), supposedly for its TV coverage which, given that all the main newspapers have extensive TV coverage, seems surprising.
The BBC fares no better: media which was currently blanking coverage of the Assange extradition proceedings, which was currently failing to report on the atrocious state of the people of Yemen, which regularly adopted the missionary position in the face of Britain’s dull parasitical royal family, which comprehensively blanked coverage of British military repression And its activities on behalf of US imperialism, and which could always be relied upon to represent Palestinians as truculent, violent irrational Arabs and their bigoted, murderous Jewish oppressors as incarnations of virtue and rationality.
There were, from my point of view, three other key issues going on in the UK in 2020. The first is Brexit. Yes, the voting had been finished by January 2020, though the UK had not formally left the EU. The issue does not get much of a mention in this book. He does mention the European Union, described as follows: There was nothing intrinsically humane, liberal or democratic about the European Union. The second issue is climate change. It also gets relatively little coverage, though, towards the end, Greta Thunberg makes a guest appearance and Sharp says The biggest story of all – climate breakdown, the daily movement towards planetary apocalypse – was pushed to the margins and trivialised.
Finally, there is, of course covid. Not surprisingly, it does not get much mention in the early part of the book but, gradually, it starts appearing. Naturally, there is more about covid later on and the ineptitude of the British government in dealing with it. One of the sleaziest governments in recent British history had managed to kill over 70,000 Britons by mishandling the coronavirus pandemic from the start. But its corruption, lethal carelessness, incompetence and cynicism had been muffled throughout by the billionaire press and the BBC.
Lesser issues such as cancel culture and transgender issues are mentioned but only barely.
Boris Johnson is damned: as a lying, racist, dog-whistling, incompetent, principle-free, bullshitting, back-stabbing, British-citizen-in-Iran-incarcerating, white-supremacist-befriending, business-fucking, reality-fucking, countrycidal maniac overlord. (Note: the Iran issues relates to when Johnson was Foreign Secretary and harmed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s chance of being released from Iran and the business-fucking comment when Johnson said Fuck business.) Interestingly Biden is more criticised than Trump.
We have seen what he reads but what does he really like? He comments on a Guardian list of the biggest books of autumn 2001 (a paper, he has told us, he no longer reads) and damns pretty well every one. Nor is he too impressed with Cameron Laux’s The challenging books we need right now. As for foreign literature, he has yet to find a Spanish writer he really like, damning Javier Marías and Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Has he tried Juan Goytisolo?
However, when it comes to cinema, he is decidedly lowbrow – Harry Potter! No Tarkovsky or Haneke for our Ellis. Art is barely mentioned and then only to criticise Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst (not named) and Charles Saatchi.
He tells us later in the book that there was so much that Twenty-Twenty left out. Including films watched, books read, pages written so he presumably is writing away but just not telling us. The only time he does tell us about writing this book is when he is hit by malware and has to try and recall the entries for the previous days, which have been lost. One of the other things he does not tell us about is his phone calls. He does tell us that he makes and receives numerous telephone calls but but never the caller or callee.
Much of his time, at least as far as he tells us in this book, is spent online browsing the news, particularly but certainly not only about Palestine/Israel/Zionism and the Labour Party. Interestingly, he gets a lot of his information from Twitter but does not have a Twitter account, which must make following the various Twitter feeds he tells us about more difficult.
According to Sharp, the book has 207, 019 words but he seems to lay greatest store by a hyphen. Nothing annoyed him quite so much as people who referenced Moby-Dick and got the title wrong,i.e. it should have a hyphen, as does the title of this book.
I must say I did enjoy this book, not least because, at least to a certain degree, I share many of Sharp’s views. I suspect if you are a Zionist, Blairite or a supporter of Boris Johnson, you might be less enthusiastic though, of course, it is always good to hear opposing points of of views. It is not Uwe Johnson, though obviously influenced by him, it is Ellis Sharp with all that that imples.
First published in 2021 by Zoilus Press