Nicholson, Geoff 1953–
Nicholson, Geoff 1953–
PERSONAL: Born March 4, 1953, in Sheffield, England; son of Geoffrey Howell (a carpenter) and Violet Theresa (a bookkeeper) Nicholson. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, B.A., 1975, M.A., 1978; University of Essex, M.A., 1978.
ADDRESSES: Home—Yoxford, Suffolk, England. Agent—Derek Johns, A.P. Watt, 20 John St., London WC1, England.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as chef, gardener, furniture sales representative, "dustman," and driving instructor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Winner of Custom Car short story competition, 1985, for "Boy-raced from Oblivion"; finalist for Whitbread Prize, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, for Bleeding London.
Street Sleeper, Quartet (London, England), 1987.
The Knot Garden, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1989.
What We Did on Our Holidays, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990.
Hunters and Gatherers, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1994.
The Food Chain, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1992, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1993.
The Errol Flynn Novel, Sceptre (London, England), 1994.
Still Life with Volkswagens, Quartet (London, England), 1994, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1995.
Everything and More, Gollancz (London, England), 1994, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1995.
Footsucker, Gollancz (London, England), 1995, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1996.
Bleeding London, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1997.
Flesh Guitar, Gollancz (London, England), 1998, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1999.
Female Ruins, Gollancz (London, England), 1999, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2000.
Bedlam Burning, Gollancz (London, England), 2000, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2002.
The Hollywood Dodo, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Sleeping Dogs (radio play), first broadcast by British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), 1982.
Big Noises: Rock Guitar in the '90s, Quartet (London, England), 1991.
Day Trips to the Desert: A Sort of Travel Book, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1992.
Andy Warhol: A Beginner's Guide, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2002.
Frank Lloyd Wright: A Beginner's Guide, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2002.
Sex Collectors: The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Bibliographers, and Accumulators of "Erotica," Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Geoff Nicholson aims to be "a serious comic writer," as he once told CA. His protagonists frequently take their interests to the point of obsession. The characters in Hunters and Gatherers, for instance, are consumed by collecting; a husband and wife collect cars and extramarital lovers, respectively, while another character, a writer, is obsessed with chronicling collectors. New York Times Book Review critic Eric Kraft called the novel "a humorous but serious study of people who collect things, with ruminations on the psychological, sociological, and philosophical aspects of their obsession. It is also about people who tell stories, with ruminations on the nature of their obsession." Nicholson treats these subjects in a manner that is "clever, entertaining and intriguing … literate and rich, with references to culture high and low," Kraft said, although he also wrote of Nicholson's characters: "Though they bump into one another now and then, they don't feel much when they do." To Time reviewer John Skow, the book "is not so much a novel as a collection of loosely related fiction riffs, but it does not suffer at all from its lack of connective tissue." Nicholson's narrative, he added, is "always peculiar, frequently droll, and on several occasions funny."
In Everything and More, Nicholson turns a jaundiced eye on materialism, with a tale centering on a fictional London department store, Haden Brothers, which a Publishers Weekly critic described as "a combination of Harrod's, Kafka's Castle, and the Marx Brothers' The Big Store." The primary characters are Vita Carlisle, a seemingly ideal salesperson who eventually tries to blow up the store; Charlie Mayhew, a would-be artist who takes a low-level job at Haden Brothers and falls in love with Vita; and Arnold Haden, the last of the brothers, who also longs for Vita. Quirky supporting players include a blind elevator operator who tells Charlie he smells right for the store and disgruntled workers who take their revenge on management by shoplifting. "The book bristles with energy, the plot moves quickly and there's a great sense of life and movement to all the characters," observed Susan Jeffreys in New Statesman and Society. "There are also (a real bonus in a comic novel) some terrifically sensual passages, particularly when the store is being described…. It is riddled with secret passages, underground chambers, and even a tomb." The Publishers Weekly reviewer found Everything and More "a highly literate and bawdy assault on the principle that all things, including people, have exchange values."
In Bleeding London, the focus is again on obsessions, with one character, Mick Wilton, determined to avenge his girlfriend's rape; another, Stuart London, so obsessed with the city whose name he shares that he intends to walk every one of its streets; and a third, Judy Tanaka, driven to accumulate sexual partners. All use the same London city guide as an aid in their quests. "Nicholson constructs his plot lines to intersect like crossroads," noted J.D. Biersdorfer in the New York Times Book Review, adding that the result will "keep readers comfortably hooked." A Publishers Weekly commentator praised the novel's "delightfully cynical sense of humor" and many "vivid vignettes," finding fault only in the amount of time that it takes for the characters to meet. "Even so, getting there's most of the fun," the reviewer concluded.
Flesh Guitar looks at a rock music fan's obsession with a guitarist named Jenny Slade, whose instrument appears to be made of human flesh. Slade is portrayed as an influence on many famed rockers, such as Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. According to New York Times Book Review contributor Anthony Bourdain, Flesh Guitar's concept is promising, but its execution is lacking; the novel, while "always clever, is seldom fun," he wrote. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, deemed Flesh Guitar "a clever montage rife with signature black humor and ultrahip self-consciousness."
Nicholson mixes architectural theory with fiction in Female Ruins. Kelly Howell, daughter of the late English architect Christopher Howell, agrees to be a tour guide for American Jack Dexter. Dexter is actually an admirer of her father's, and wants to get close to Kelly in order to find out more about the man who was a great architect and a lousy father. Barbara Love of Library Journal called Female Ruins an "entertaining read … enlivened by scattered riffs on architecture." A contributor to Publishers Weekly considered it "a complex, subtle story with equally intricate and modulated characters." Chris Jones of Book wrote that Female Ruins "is a gripping tale with potent ideas that linger long in the mind."
In Bedlam Burning, narrator Mike Smith is both attractive and aimless. When his friend Gregory Collins enlists Mike to pose for the jacket photo for Gregory's first novel, Mike agrees. Gregory convinces Mike to stand in for him at an author reading as well, and soon Mike, posing as Gregory, finds himself accepting a writer-in-residence position at an insane asylum. The psychiatrists at the asylum first lock him up (the disorientation will help him identify with the patients). Once he is released, he steps into the role of writer-in-residence, and although he is not sure what to do with it, he eventually sets the inmates to writing their own pieces. In the meantime, he discovers that Kincaid's method for curing madness is to deprive his patients of visual images, and he beds psychiatrist Alicia Crowe, who is aroused by foul language. Nicholson "knows how to catch your interest from Page 1," wrote Marcel Theroux in his review for the New York Times Book Review, continuing, "Mike is good company as a narrator: bright, engagingly straightforward, and yet virtually clueless about what's going on around him." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Bedlam Burning "delightfully stretches sanity to its farcical breaking point."
The Hollywood Dodo is another story about obsession, or more precisely three stories in one. There is the story of aspiring film director Rick McCartney, who seems driven to acquire financing for his movie about the extinct dodo bird. There is the story of British physician Henry Cadwallader, who, while escorting his daughter Dorothy to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune on the silver screen, encounters McCartney and finds himself drawn ever deeper into the corruption and obsession that seem, in this novel at least, to define Tinseltown. Then there is the film story of seventeenth-century medical student William Draper and his obsessive quest to save the dodo from extinction by finding a mate for his own pet bird. The novel "seeks to be a Hollywood satire in the grand tradition," observed David L. Ulin in his New York Times Book Review article, masterfully weaving the three stories into a fabric both bizarre and provocative. Beyond the satire, Ulin suggested, "Nicholson means to make a point about artifice and actuality, illusion and truth, Hollywood and history," but ultimately misses his mark. He found The Hollywood Dodo to be not particularly convincing, albeit well written and very entertaining. Salon.com reviewer Stephanie Zacharek commented similarly that the novel is less satisfying than hoped for, but nonetheless one of Nicholson's trademark "savory pleasures." She called The Hollywood Dodo "a journey of discovery, viewed not through prissy rose-colored glasses, but through some very dark, sexy ones."
In Sex Collectors: The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Bibliographers, and Accumulators of "Erotica," Nicholson looks at a different form of obsession, one perhaps more voyeuristic than participatory. His characters are not the inventions of his creative mind, but real people who appear to be living their fantasies through the paraphernalia with which they surround themselves. His subjects range from a woman who collects plaster casts of the intimate body parts of rock musicians to a man who collects nude paintings of his own family members to Sigmund Freud, who collected archaeological artifacts which, though not overtly erotic on their own, reportedly reminded their owner of a link between collecting and a form of lust approaching the intensity of a biological urge. The subject matter, both the collections and their often-bizarre owners, provide a built-in trigger for Nicholson's sense of humor and appreciation of the absurd. According to New York Times Book Review contributor Emily Nussbaum, "Nicholson tries his best to find the nugget of humanity, the passion within the obsessiveness, in each of his subjects. He's such an appealing writer that you want him to succeed." In the end, however, the subject matter fails to live up to expectations. As Nussbaum pointed out, the art of collecting is not normally an erotic act, regardless of subject matter, and the act of writing about it is even less so, regardless of the author's talent. To Los Angeles magazine reviewer Ariel Swartley, however, the success of Sex Collectors may depend more on the reader than the author. British readers, Swartley suggested, seem more likely to appreciate Nicholson's humor, satire, and wit for its own sake, while Americans "want him to get serious, take a stand." The critic reported that "Sex Collectors … offers the best of both worlds [in the form of] stimulation and satisfaction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, September, 2000, Chris Jones, review of Female Ruins, p. 81.
Booklist, May 1, 2000, Brendan Dowling, review of Female Ruins, p. 1653; June 1, 2006, Mike Tribby, review of Sex Collectors: The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Bibliographers, and Accumulators of "Erotica," p. 12.
Library Journal, May 1, 2000, Barbara Love, review of Female Ruins, p. 154; February 1, 2002, Barbara Love, review of Bedlam Burning, p. 132.
Los Angeles, July, 2006, Ariel Swartley, review of Sex Collectors, p. 121.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, 2000, Charles De Lint, review of Flesh Guitar, p. 23.
New Statesman and Society, October 7, 1994, Susan Jeffreys, review of Everything and More, p. 47.
New York Times, February 27, 2002, Richard Eder, "When the Imposter Tries to Do the Job in Earnest," p. B7.
New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1995, Eric Kraft, review of Hunters and Gatherers; January 4, 1998, J.D. Biersdorfer, review of Bleeding London, p. 16; March 14, 1999, Anthony Bourdain, review of Flesh Guitar, p. 23; July 23, 2000, Matthew Klam, "A Doll's House," p. 11; February 10, 2002, Marcel Theroux, "Insanity Clauses," p. 10; June 3, 2004, David L. Ulin, review of The Hollywood Dodo; June 18, 2006, Emily Nussbaum, review of Sex Collectors,
Publishers Weekly, September 6, 1993, review of The Food Chain, p. 83; May 1, 1995, review of Everything and More, p. 41; August 21, 1995, review of Still Life with Volkswagens, p. 46; August 12, 1996, review of Footsucker, p. 63; August 4, 1997, review of Bleeding London, p. 62; December 14, 1998, review of Flesh Guitar, p. 56; April 3, 2000, review of Female Ruins, p. 61; November 19, 2001, review of Bedlam Burning, p. 47.
Time, January 23, 1995, John Skow, review of Hunters and Gatherers, p. 59.
Washington Post, February 19, 2002, Chris Lehmann, "Into the Cuckoo's Nest," p. C04.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (July 9, 2004), Stephanie Zacharek, review of The Hollywood Dodo.