Have you ever been at a party, enjoying a little free-range mingling, when suddenly a wild-eyed young man corners you and talks your ear off for hours, determined to baptize you in a pool of esoteric knowledge about his favorite band, book, or film? Sometimes, if your attacker is attractive enough, being stuck in that corner can be enjoyable. Other times, you just keep smiling and nodding until an escape route presents itself.
That's more or less how I felt about Saint Morrissey. On the one hand, the book is handsomely written, drenched in the stylistic bravado of its author, Mark Simpson. On the other hand, it occasionally reads like a breathless fan's relentless defense of his favorite pop icon. But perhaps it's unfair to accuse a Morrissey biographer of being too interested in Morrissey. While there's a heavy dose of Simpson's own interpretations in the text, he never skimps on factual detail, historical context, or humor. Ample biographical information is peppered with interview quotes from Morrissey, little epigrammatic tidbits to satiate rabid fans; hilarious descriptions paint Morrissey as "sometimes looking like a lesbian attempting a half-hearted gesture at femininity for her visiting parents"; and Morrissey's interest in artistic movements is explored, from the dandyism of Oscar Wilde to the glamour of the New York Dolls.
The book drags only when there is little biographical evidence and a lot of interpretation, such as the inevitable look into Morrissey's murky sexuality. Where credible evidence is lacking, Simpson draws from interview snippets and song lyrics. To his credit, however, he never attempts to make any overt conclusions about Morrissey's orientation—he simply draws information from all sides, amplifying the frontman's image of impenetrable complexity. There are times, however, when it seems like Simpson is more interested in conveying his own interpretive capabilities than delivering the nuts and bolts of Morrissey's biography.
Saint Morrissey will likely appeal to Smiths fans—they're Smiths fans, after all. For somebody unfamiliar with Morrissey, there's quite a lot of Simpson's stylistic jungle to hack through before you can get a good feel for the facts. It's an enjoyable read in any case, never lacking trivia or analysis.