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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Pornographer's Poem

Michael Turner

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To purchase The Pornographer's Poem

Title: The Pornographer's Poem
Author: Michael Turner
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 320 pages
Availability: The Pornographer's Poem - US
The Pornographer's Poem - UK
The Pornographer's Poem - Canada
Le poème pornographe - France
Das Gedicht des Pornographen - Deutschland
  • Awarded the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, 2000

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining, often well written novel -- though loses itself in some excesses

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Essays on Canadian Writing B+ Spring/2000 Joel Baetz
The Guardian A 2/12/2000 Carrie O'Grady
The Village Voice . 30/11/2004 Dennis Lim

  From the Reviews:
  • "In the best of his writing, Turner retains this contingent pornographic desire to destabilize. He seduces the reader into forming expectations and then, with a turn of phrase, twist in action, or ironic insight, jolt the reader back to attention. (...) But this text is not without its faults. When Turner shies away from the shocking and tender narrative mix and opts for the nakedness of bland exposition, the pace lags. (...) Turner's penetrating gaze and dark wit make The Pornographers Poem a wholly original and thoughtful book whose faults can easily be forgiven." - Joel Baetz, Essays on Canadian Writing

  • "Happily, the book justifies its hype: it's more generous with the porn than with the poems. (...) We're given the pornographer's story as he tells it, complete with exaggerations, half-truths and justifications. (...) Turner has an especially good time with the narrator's early adolescence" - Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

  • "Turner's intentions, in this noble and elaborately filthy book, are clear, even if his attitudes toward hardcore porn aren't always." - Dennis Lim, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The book as a whole is the "pornographer's poem". Poetry is, fortunately, essentially entirely absent from this novel; pornography is decidedly not.
       The Pornographer's Poem is presented in short chapters, proceeding for the most part chronologically. The story unfolds easily, though Turner plays a few games with the reader. For one: throughout the narrative there are chapters made up entirely of dialogue, in what seems some sort of interrogation. The dialogue focusses on details of the narrator's life. Questions are asked, and the answers then fleshed out in the other chapters. The purpose of the interrogation -- and the questioner(s) -- remains unclear, though it does slowly dawn on readers what might be going on here.
       The unnamed narrator recounts much of his youth, the story pretty much beginning when he is twelve and continuing through his high school years. He lives in Vancouver, with his younger sister and his mother. He has a sometimes close friend, Nettie Smart, who plays a large role in the narrative.
       The narrator presents his story for the most part as plain narrative (pushed occasionally to revise or revisit his story by the interrogatory interruptions), but there are parts he can only present in screenplay form. He also offers other documentation: project outlines, treatments, discarded screenplays, essays, letters, lists.
       The lives of Nettie and the narrator are indelibly changed with the arrival of their seventh grade teacher -- a last-minute substitute for a popular teacher who was apparently fired for -- so rumour has it -- sexual misconduct. Ms. Singleton is unlike any of their teachers: she is English, young -- and black. And she has her own ideas about pedagogy. Her class is structured around film-making, and the children have to come up with (and eventually film) their own projects. This part of the novel is among Turner's most successful efforts, as he conveys the enthusiasm and the learning process very well (and the still-hopeful British (and Canadian) radicalism of the late 1970s).
       Ms. Singleton only lasts a single term before she is ousted, but Nettie and the narrator can't quite escape her grasp and lure. Film-making continues to haunt them -- and eventually (far into the novel) it leads the narrator to embark (albeit almost only accidentally) on his career as a pornographer.
       Turner's novel moves from stage to stage, somewhat unexpectedly and unevenly. The focus shifts: early on the narrator goes on at great length about his schooldays and his classmates, then later he winds up in an odd drug orbit. Then there is the art/pornography scene in which he finds himself. Turner doesn't always seem sure what should receive the most attention. Nettie -- the narrator's partner in many of these adventures -- is a fairly constant presence (with one longer interruption), but at the later signal moments she is out of reach, sent abroad. She and the narrator remain in touch through letters, but the imminence is lost (a feat handled well by Turner).
       Pornography is an important feature of the book. There is a lot of it. Nettie's father is a judge, and Nettie and the narrator come across some of the very explicit photographs that are presented as evidence in his cases. There are a number of pedophiles in the novel. Voyeurism, homosexuality, and bestiality are also featured. And there are the pornographic films -- those seen and those the narrator is involved in making.
       Turner describes some of the sexual goings-on in considerable and graphic detail (as straightforward narrative as well as in screenplay-form). Little of this is erotic: Turner is clinical and precise but not evocative -- presumably on purpose. Not all of the sex is handled to best effect: excessive description of any particular activity, whether eating or some athletic activity or, as in this case, sex can easily become wearisome. Turner throws enough surprises in to hold the reader's interest, but the book does feel more padded than it needs to be -- and most of the padding is the graphic sex.
       Turner tries a lot in this novel, experimenting with form, language, and presentation. He has a good if not unerring touch. He latches on to certain failures, repeating, for example, the idea: "A moment passed. We let it." He also gives his narrator a so-called Bullshit Detector -- a passable idea, which by the end he uses (out of desperation ?) a lot, but he never explains it adequately.
       Turner is a good storyteller. The Pornographer's Poem is a brisk novel, well-framed, with many entertaining episodes and some decent carefully timed revelations and realizations. Parts are unfocussed, as he seems to be trying to cram in too much in this one novel, but almost nothing about the novel is boring (beyond the occasionally tiresome sex-scenes).
       A talented writer, and a neat, enjoyably rough novel.

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The Pornographer's Poem: Reviews: Michael Turner: Other books by Michael Turner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michael Turner is a Canadian author.

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