The Books section of the Guardian this week has been running two items that amount to something like a collision of matter and anti-matter.
First of all, we hear from James Frey again, whose new book, he assures everyone, is fiction. Frey got into trouble earlier this year when it was disclosed that some of his "nonfiction" writing was lies. Here's a little of what I wrote about it at the time:
An illiterate person believes that a book's being factually true will give it more "impact." This is sort of the reverse of the thinking of any writer with integrity. If Frey had sold his book as fiction no one would have quarreled with him except possibly me because frankly it sounds to me like a piece of shit no matter what you serve it on. But nothing tells you how utterly devoid of literary instincts the man is like this business of insisting that this work of fiction was factually true. Because the factual claim has been discredited, and no reader will ever ever ever again trust a writer of anything who shows such poor judgement, who is such a wretched clumsy dimwit in his own chosen medium. But his making that factual claim shows such a dismal, utter failure to understand the nature of fiction and its truth-telling power, that he proved himself utterly disqualified to write that too. Frey is a con artist, he is a slob, and that is that.
Harsh words, you may well say. I will point out that I didn't read Frey's book, and you can make of that what you like. That's partly because of my skepticism about a lot of the "Memoir" genre, indeed the whole creative nonfiction thing that comes out of the workshops. It's like I can smell it before I even open the covers. When I wrote about this I also referred readers to this piece by Driftglass. You'll get some idea of what I mean.
Anyway there the matter sits, and here's Frey making an appearance with his new fictions which do even less for my curiosity than his nonfictions.
Alongside of The Man Who Can't Get Anybody to Believe He's Telling the Truth is
The Guy Who Can't Get Anybody to Believe He Was Making It Up.
As he gets more animated, his stilted conversational English breaks into the hiss and spit of quickfire Polish. This is the first time Bala has agreed to speak to a journalist since his incarceration - and he has plenty to say. 'Of course, the book is brutal, vulgar, the dirtiest I could write, but that's how art must be provocative. Just because I write a murder, doesn't mean I did it in real life.'
It was a brutal death, but it would have an even more gruesome coda. The first police investigation was abandoned in May 2001 after officers failed to find a single lead. Then, a year later, during a routine police review of unsolved cases, it was noticed that Janiszewski's mobile phone had never been recovered from the murder scene.
The service provider traced his SIM card and, astonishingly, discovered that it was being used by an unsuspecting businessman who had bought the mobile from an internet auction site on 16 November 2000 - three days after Janiszewski's disappearance and several weeks before his body was found.
The phone had been sold for 244 Polish zloty (about £44) on the Allegro website by someone with the internet username 'ChrisB7'. A cursory police search revealed that ChrisB7's account was registered to a Krystian Bala. That, in turn, led them to his weblog, a series of demented personal ramblings that would, three years later, be published as Amok.
Talking to him is an exercise in frustration. He refuses to address the evidence stacked up against him, dismissing the case as a giant police conspiracy to dismantle his right to freedom of expression. He claims he found Janiszewski's mobile in a cafe and brushes aside inconvenient facts as 'lies'. Through the course of our hour-long conversation, he compares himself variously to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Daniel Defoe, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Henry Miller and William Burroughs. He likes to make facile puns - 'They call it the system; I call it the shitstem' - delivering them with a half-smile, then repeating them to ensure the joke has registered.
'This book is obscene, vulgar, bawdy and pornographic,' he says. 'But this book is about language and how it works. I am a stupidity exposer, a jester, a rebel, but the book is fictional, it is nothing to do with my life. 'What has happened to me is a horror story of the ignorance, arrogance and lack of professionalism in our public servants.'
In court, much was made of Bala's apparent superiority complex. Two independent psychologists found he had a high IQ and was mentally accountable for his actions but diagnosed a narcissistic emotional disorder that left him incapable of empathy, with an extreme hatred of criticism.
'Krystian Bala is not a fantasist; rather, he says something about himself that is a lie, but as soon as he says it, he starts to believe that it is true,' says Wroblewski.
According to Liliana Lukasiewicz, a lawyer who worked with the prosecution team, the only time Bala showed any emotion during the trial was when the judge said that he must be taken straight to his cell without being allowed to speak to waiting journalists.
'He was immediately very angry that he would not get the attention he craved,' she says.