I still think that The Smiths were one of the greatest bands of all times (I saw them four times), and last year their lead singer/lyricist wrote a novel about running. What's not to like? Except that 'List of the Lost' by Morrissey (Penguin, 2015) received pretty much universally terrible reviews, and knowing that even his musical solo output has been decidely patchy I have put off reading it until now.
And no it isn't very good. It's the tale of four young Boston athletes, 'America's most sovereignly feared college relay team' but that is a device for the over-intrusive narrator to sing of the joys of a band of brothers at their physical peak before what he sees as the inevitable disappointments of adult relationships and ageing.
So as they prepare to run their half-mile relay (or in metric terms 4 x 200m), Morrissey reflects that 'Their success depends upon the communal goal, the spring in eight legs, the combined methodology of four minds, and the maintained perfection of four physical frames; four wheels of the one machine... there is a job to be done - a job almost as old as reading, one which fades faster than it blooms, batting away the decline that rots in life, a decline that must always win'.
There is a coach who is simply one of the 'belligerent ghouls, run Manchester schools' (The Smiths, Headmaster Ritual), transplanted to New England. He berates the young athletes 'we search in life for that one race that sums everything. Well keep searching. As they lower your cold-meat body into the ground, keep searching still... Historians of track and field need watch you no longer'.
Devices that work fine in song lines - alliteration, internal rhymes etc. - sound strained and tortuous in long archaic sentences. And the plot - well without wishing to spoil it, the young athletes are spared the compromises of getting old thanks to a series of deaths with a supernatural twist. But surely Morrissey, who was a schoolboy athlete himself (see my previous post on this) must have some perceptive observation to offer on the world of running?
Well, this was the best I could find: 'Somewhere alone within the hole of the soul it is known that the page is already turning, and the future is a time when you will only watch. Fully present in today, you will make the most of yourself as you dig deep to bring out whatever will save you'.
The cover star is American athlete Early Young, running a relay for Abilene Christian College, Texas. Young won a 4 x 400m gold medal for USA in the 1960 Rome Olympics.