A bodice ripper without the bodice

01:55, Sep 08 2011

We are often told when we're young not to judge a book by its cover (I think once we reach adulthood the well-meaning souls who dispense such advice admit defeat and move on to younger, more gullible minds). It's a fair enough statement to make if you don't mean it too literally. After all, a book's cover does generally carry the title and who wrote it, both of which are key pieces of information when it comes to making reading selections.

Recently I've had reason to peruse a few books and judge, if not the reading material itself, then perhaps the person who last owned it. This is because I've been volunteering to keep our local community book exchange tidy. The book exchange, which is a Gap Filler project that aims to keep empty "gaps" from recently demolished buildings alive, takes the form of a glass-fronted fridge and the idea is that you bring a book that you don't want anymore, preferably one along the theme of "think differently", and exchange it for another one.

This means the fridge has played home to everything thing from Darwin to Ian Wishart, Judy Blume to Virginia Woolf. Naturally The Bible has made an appearance and that other tome of spiritual guidance The Secret. And of course, it's not a party without The Da Vinci Code. Let's just say on any given day it's a real fruit salad of reading material and that there have been some fairly unusual titles in there.

But none of them beats the book I claimed for myself from the fridge yesterday, The Mahound.

Initially I completely misread the title as The Manhound, but who could blame me when the blurb on the back cover declares in bold, "Chatsubah was all woman - and she made him all man"? Apparently I invented an "n" where there oughtn't be one. I'm not sure how to pronounce "Mahound" but I'm going with "muh-hoond" though in my head I'm still saying "manhound" because I like that name better. 

Rory "Manhound" is a young Scottish nobleman who, if the cover is to be believed, is quite keen on standing around while flexing his riding crop and looking like a bit of an arrogant tosser. As I only got the book yesterday I've not been able to read the entire 429-page (I won't say bodice-ripper because given the lack of clothing on the woman on the cover I think that would be misleading) "novel" so I'm not really sure of the plot but I can say that, via the highly scientific method of picking random pages and skim reading them, that sex, decapitation, cannibalism, torture, sex, nudity, sex and sex feature heavily. It's the most extraordinary piece of "literature" I've ever got my hands on (which I make a point of washing thoroughly afterwards, I hasten to add).

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Take for instance a random page. Page 100, say, and you'll be treated to one of Rory's associates inquiring "...in the dark what does it matter what colour her skin is?" This is the kind of book that refers to women as "wenches" and talks about "swiving" them but appears not to feature any pirates (though I have hope one or two may turn up). This is the kind of book that discusses the sexual fortitude of eunuchs (20 swives a night, apparently. Gosh).

But it's not all beer and swiving, as later on at a sitdown banquet Rory the manhound discovers that the exotic pork casserole he was enjoying earlier actually had fingers in it. Of people. Cooked ones.

It's quite possibly the worst book ever written. I'd be offended by it if it weren't so tragically, hilariously awful. I'm convinced that the author, Lance Horner, (Would you lance her? No, I'd horner) was suffering from some kind of mental illness or head injury. 

The cover is just as terrible. The naked woman pictured looks from her skintone like she's supposed to be African but her hair and features are completely wrong. It's like the artist just worked from a picture of a European woman and used "burnt sienna" to colour her in instead of "cream". And what's with the nipples showing? I don't have anything against nipples but it's rare to find them gracing a book cover. If Katie Price can manage to keep hers under wraps on her autobiography, surely the cover of a piece of historical fiction can remain nipple-free? I never expected the answer to that question to be no.

Quite frankly, there's so much badness going on with this book that it's hard to get your head around it. I'm not sure if I should burn it or frame it for posterity. The fact that someone wrote this, and that someone bought it and read it and then left it for someone else to "enjoy" disturbs me deeply. The fact that I'm enjoying dipping in and reading trashy, awful excerpts from it is even worse.

So what's the worst book you've ever read (or partly read, like I am)? Would you like some wisdom from the pages of The Mahound? For today only, if you pick a random page number (between 1 and 429) and post it as a comment, I will respond with a tasty tidbit from that page in The Mahound. I'll do my best to keep up...

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