"How fucking boring Evelyn Waugh’s book Scoop is. How unbelievably dull, repetitive, tired, inconsequential and fucking boring."
Thus began the worst book ever written, ‘Death to Evelyn Waugh’ by Irvine Springer. Emulating Waugh’s own particular style, Springer uses the expression ‘fucking boring’ no less than 96 times in the opening three pages.
After that, however, the novel disappoints, with three main characters all plotting the murder of Evelyn Waugh, each apparently unaware that Waugh had been dead for ten years. Even the ending is confused, with all three characters succeeding in their assassination attempts and one character, the West Indian chef Thomas, killing Evelyn no less than 76 times, the final occasion being shortly after being killed himself by a vengeful Waugh.
The author was clearly not fond of Evelyn Waugh’s work, one of the few things clearly portrayed in the novel. What made ‘Death to Evelyn Waugh’ such a clear winner though was not the weak plot, chronological inconsistency, poor grammar and frankly unbelievable characters, but just the fact that reading the book prompted three of the judges to write their own books all entitled ‘Death to Irvine Springer’.
Despite the unanimous verdict, the choice of the worst book ever written was not reached easily. Myself and the rest of the panel had to read a total of 200 books each, all chosen for their sheer awfulness, books that had already been read, rejected and hated by much respected critics.
Indeed so bad were they that they drove poor Mr Pearsley from Buckinger press to an unfortunate suicide attempt. Unfortunate, as the inspiration for his chosen means of death came from the poorly written and even more poorly researched ‘The oldest working railways in Yorkshire’ by Graham Surgeon, and as a consequence of spending 2 days lying on the line of the long defunct Thornton-Peasant railway awaiting the ‘Crushing Engine’ the heaviest locomotive engine in Europe, Mr Pearsley caught a severe bout of pneumonia that necessitated the amputation of both his legs and the little finger on his right hand.
What was particularly gruelling for Mr Pearsley was that his failed suicide didn’t excuse him from his contract, and he was forced to read the remaining 86 books on the list. Pearsley went on to write ‘Death to Irvine Springer’, the longest suicide note in history, and uniquely for suicide notes, was written after the actual suicide.
Also unique was the fact that ‘Death to Irvine Springer’ was elevated to the worst 200 books list itself, replacing the much berrated ‘Summer in Billericay’ by Hamilton Homes, which was taken off the list when it was revealed not to be a gardening book by a little know Essex farmer, but in fact an ironic pastiche on the form by artistic maestro Damien Hirst. Unfortunately for Mr Hirst he didn’t have long to savour this inter-artform coup, as the real Mr Hamilton Homes from Billericay was so angry at the slur on his literary talent that he sliced Mr Hirst in two with a chainsaw. As you will have read in the papers, Hamilton’s excuse that the act was justifiable homicide due to ‘artistic licence’ was accepted by the court, and the pickled corpse of Mr Hirst is now pride of place in the National Gallery.
As you will understand the task of reading the 200 worst books ever written did not pass without consequence on my own life. My own writing seemed to suffer, as if seeking to meet the same low standards as my daily literary fare. This can be seen by a glance at my notes on the books I was reading. My early notes are, if I say so myself, clear, well-written, balanced and to the point. Take, for example, my notes on ‘7 days in a balloon with just 14 litres of prune juice and a bag of Wotsits’ by Sherlyn Bishop, the only childrens’ book to make the final 200.
“Ms Bishop’s attempt to portray fart-powered ballooning as the hip alternative to surfing is above all else inspired, though what demon inspired her and to what evil intent is unclear. The book would have been better if it had been shorter, after all a children’s book of 1, 800 pages would, even by the best of wordsmiths, have been an endurance test. In short, Ms Bishop’s story would have been better served had she ended the novel after Chapter 196, when the balloon finally crash landed, instead of wandering onto the subject of the history of lesbian ballooning, and in particular the vivid sexual descriptions of chapters 222 – 328, all of which were most unsuited to childrens’ literature.”
My notes go on to record the fact that this was the best selling book in the entire competition, though I cynically point out that the sharp rise in sales followed an advertising campaign in the Daily Sport, and that anyway these were sales of the expurgated version, that excluded the opening 221 chapters.
By book 47, however, my own writing had clearly declined, as can be seen by my analysis of Michele Pretty’s ‘The lost jam’ a 2,000 page ‘thriller’ about a housewife who mysteriously loses her pot of blueberry jam one summer morning. This book, incidentally won the worst opening line section of the competition; (The day my bicycle pump was stolen was the day I fell in love. It was years before I connected the two events). My review, however, missed even this startling opening, and the fact that it has no connection whatsoever with the rest of the novel.
"Where’s the jam! Where’s the jam! I don’t care! I don’t care! 2, 000 pages! 2,000 bloody pages! Just have marmalade instead for Christ’s sake!"
All I can say in my defence is that I was recovering from having just finished Irvine’s Springer’s book and my mind wasn’t fully functioning. My writing did improve slightly by the end of the year, with the joys of Christmas (and especially the four days off from reading I had promised myself) lifting my spirits. Even the ‘joke Christmas present’ from my wife (the complete works of Irvine Springer, including the ‘lost’ early extended poem ‘Jane Austin is a Bitch’) didn’t upset my mood and I was happy to watch bad TV and eat excessively in the loud, demanding company of my family, safe in the knowledge that my cares and woes were safely packed away in the bookcase.
It wasn’t just my writing that was being affected by contact with the books. My domestic bliss was also put under strain, my wife having to put up with my bad moods, the heavy drinking sessions I needed to get through ‘Evelyn Waugh is Dead’ and worst of all, the nightmares. Every night over the nine month judgement period I would wake up, and wake her up, screaming “not the book, not the book”.
In retrospect it is hardly surprising that my wife left me. I was expecting her to share an unreasonable burden, the mental torture of reading the 200 worst books ever, but what really hurt was that the man left me for was none other than Irvine Springer himself, who I introduced her to at the ‘Death to Irvine Springer’ convention we attended, where I delivered my paper ‘Why Irvine Springer must Die Now’.
How Irvine managed to woo her I will never know, the man has virtually no understanding of the English language, the looks of a sunburnt warthog and the wit and charm of an explosion at a sewage farm.
I must stress that although he did take my wife and break up my family the worst thing Mr Spring ever did to me was to write that book.
The only positive thing to come out of the whole ghastly episode was that it inspired me to sit down and write my autobiography. The resultant ‘Death to Irvine Springer’ proved a surprise success and finally established me as a serious money top ten author. My delight at this success is only slightly tainted by the fact that the only English author currently outselling me is Irvine Springer, whose latest work ‘The Worst book ever written’ is surely even worst than ‘Death to Evelyn Waugh’ itself. But that’s for you to judge.
In conclusion then, I would like to congratulate you on having put yourselves forward to judge this year’s ‘worst book ever written’ competition. It is perhaps a sad reflection on the state of the literary industry that just three years later there are already enough new books on the market at least as bad, and in many cases worse, than the original list of 200, to justify re-running the competition. I feel every sympathy for you in your task and hope that the experience is more enjoyable for you than it proved for me.