So, farewell then, Norman Mailer.
I liked Norm. Leaving aside his abrasive persona and his, how shall I put this, colourful private life, he was in my humble opinion one of the best modern prose stylists. I liked his novels, even Barbary Shore, whose eccentric political judgements (derived in large part from his connections with the Shachtman movement in the 1940s) don’t really mesh with the experimental style, but is nonetheless a fascinating work.
But, and Norm always hated this, it was as an essayist and a pioneer of the non-fiction novel that he really came into his own. I haven’t read Armies of the Night or The Executioner’s Song in years, but I could still quote chunks off the top of my head.
A lot of people, especially a certain breed of feminist critic, wrote him off as a reactionary old curmudgeon. Not true – Norm was deeply rooted in American radicalism, just of an earlier generation to the new politics of the 1960s, and he never quite caught up with the literary fashions. Likewise, his obsession with violence drew a lot of criticism, and it can be hard to take at times, but that’s like criticising Hunter Thompson for writing too much about drugs. Norm was Norm, warts and all, and I wouldn’t have had him any different.