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Olivia Cole's review of 'Sombrero Fallout'
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by Olivia Cole?

(...) if you're looking for sex plus style, substance and street cred, there couldn't be a better place to start than the Canons, Canongate's new series of what they consider (aptly enough) "canonical" fiction, with introductions by fans such as Jarvis Cocker, who this month celebrates poet and novelist Richard Brautigan with a new edition of Sombrero Fallout, first published in 1976.

The novel centres on a famous (but humourless) humorist who spends his time imagining the life of his ex-lover, while completely ignoring a vicious riot that has broken out in his neighbourhood. Like the best absurdist fiction, it's not really so very absurd at all. No one understands the cause of the riot (a sombrero that has fallen into the street) but everyone expends an awful lot of energy trying to understand why it happened. Norman Mailer flies in to report on the counterculture developments. What's it's like down there as the media pack? "It's hell," Mailer says, shaking his head.

In his introduction, Cocker writes about the stalkerish, unrequited love he experienced for a brilliant, almost forgotten writer. "I go to the 'B' section whenever I'm in a bookshop, compulsively scanning the shelves murmuring 'Bradbury... Brontë...' It's a nervous habit that dates back to the time when all his writing was out of print and the only places to find his novels and poetry were second-hand booksellers and charity shops."

In common with Cocker, Brautigan had a gift for a brilliant title - Sombrero Fallout included. Take his poem "The Moon Versus Us Ever Sleeping Together Again", for example. Sending up William Carlos Williams and his famous, much imitated plums in "This Is Just To Say" (I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox/and which/you were probably/saving/for breakfast), the imagist classic that has spawned a million awful creative-writing efforts is revised by Brautigan in the deliciously titled "Haiku Ambulance": A piece of green pepper/fell/off the wooden salad bowl:/so what? Cocker notes that he had initially filed Brautigan under "hippy writer" - a tag not that helpful to literary credibility. But there's a more tragic side to his disengagement too. His lack of fame today is in part due to his premature death - out of vogue and largely out of print. He killed himself in 1984, aged just 49, and far less famous than peers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his childhood friend Ken Kesey.

The Canons series features books that writers have bought up and passed around between friends for years. According to the publisher and managing editor of Canongate, Jamie Byng, they are books that have played a real part in how their advocates "make sense of the world, and their place in it". And while reprinting lost classics might seem like catnip for people who collect physical books, the whole series comes as e-books as well.

(...)

British GQ? August 2012
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