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The Simmons Papers
Faber and Faber

Purely for interest's sake, I found myself reading papers purportedly from the estate of one Paul Simmons, Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy. These publicize Simmons' time working on a great project, language's perpetual perfecting by a secret international network of intellectuals-as-encyclopaedists. Or do they? It is never clear whether Simmons is actually writing about himself, or himself writing fictional prose. This doubly literary persona, known only by the initial letter 'P' on which he works, archiving and detailing word meanings and etymologies, finds himself suffering from psychiatric problems, the pursuit of words perverting the old gentleman's personality.

Pre-empting the reader's own powers, Blom has provided footnotes and cross-commentary from imaginary critics who parrot received wisdom in their fields on the nature and intent of Simmons' legacy. Complete with a pseudobiographical preface, The Simmons Papers' pose as a palimpsest is clear. Blom is playing tricks, which occasionally fall flat: knowing and arch, sesquipedalian and sixth-form. When Professor Trefusis from a certain polytechnic pokes out of the pages early on, the posture has clearly already been assumed: Blom wants us to know that he considers us wise indeed, but no more wise than he. So we put up with a protectorate of in-case-you-missed-its and this-is-the-clever-bits. Providence smiles upon us!

Plainly Simmons, or 'P', is shown as pitiful and pernickety in this occasionally sympathetic portrayal. His plaintive passions towards the pretty woman in 'M' plunge us into the depths of his soul, and his prolonged longings for her stand starkly against his bookish bumblings among biblical bromides and the Shakespearean shibboleths that his work warrants yet which he can scarcely stomach. Yet it is all contrivance and claustrophobia: the intellectual powerhouse is clearly a poor man's Bodleian Library, Simmons a potluck of whoever Blom bumped into in Oxford, and the project a poorly defined pastiche of academic endeavour.

Probably Blom would find in Simmons a moderate fan. His protagonist would pore over this book permeated with plays on words and postmodern flourishes. But Simmons' interest would be clinical and cold: the linguistic games would provide him with hours of particularizing, but in passing he might well admit that the a better editor would have produced a better book.