The American author James Frey has long flaunted a disregard for what he views as the “rules” of literature. Strange, then, that he sticks fastidiously to the one rolled out across seminars the world over: write what you know... At first this lofty style seems an interesting experiment in youthful pretension, a tone set to transform into self-awareness later in the novel. But no... Fast-forward 25 years, and the Facebook messages are from Katerina, possibly the most under-developed titular character ever created... Later, a bizarre and rushed finale introduces the thorny topic of euthanasia, but as it doesn’t happen to Jay we hear virtually nothing about it... All this is a shame, because there was potential here. As Jay’s LA agent says, “You were the most famous writer in the world”. It would have been interesting to focus on the immediate aftermath of the 2006 scandal and attempt some explanation. Frey recalls the event across two pages, instead suggesting this liaison with Katerina lends his mortifying behaviour some sort of nobility.
This is not a book. It is a 306-page-long midlife crisis. And it’s not pretty... He’s very keen to tell you about the sex and the book contains some of the most gloriously terrible sex-writing I’ve read in a long time... To put it charitably, that writing seems . . . unpromising... If Katerina has any personality traits apart from being very sexy and really loving sex they eluded me. It’s surprising to say the least to meet a female character like this in a novel published in 2018... Katerina isn’t a misstep on that scale, but it is truly dreadful. It’s not often that I’m able to recommend a book because it’s so bad that it’s good. But it is for this reason that I advise you buy Katerina by James Frey. It’s a hoot.
Those who have had the misfortune to come across a stranger masturbating in public usually feel a mixture of shock, revulsion and embarrassment. Much the same emotions are engendered when, on page three of James Frey’s much-awaited and largely autobiographical new novel, the protagonist, Jay, announces: “Follow your heart and follow your cock.” Over the course of the book’s unedifying length, there is a great deal about Jay’s cock, and its machinations, which is described in tedious detail. What is never supplied is a reason why the reader should engage with Frey’s pretentious and vacuous alter ego... a loathsome character whose antediluvian attitudes towards anyone who isn’t male, American and “a writer” make this an unappealing and old-fashioned wallow in glorifying empty masculine privilege... Katerina probably contains the worst-written sex scenes since Morrissey’s List of the Lost, and it lacks that book’s demented creativity. One longs for a “bulbous salutation” to raise the tone... If this is to be his epitaph, let it at least be said of him that he followed his heart – and his cock.