Room 225-6

by Karsten Schubert, Ridinghouse, £15.95/$25 (softcover)

By Oliver Basciano

The gallerist and publisher Karsten Schubert wrote this ‘novel’, published by his own imprint, Ridinghouse, during (and concerning) his days convalescing in a suite at Claridge’s Hotel after an operation to remove thyroid cancer. Schubert is fully recovered and all profits from the sales of Room 225-6 are to be donated to the Oracle Cancer Trust. So, tremendous news. That said, I’d urge you to take £15.95 and send it direct to the charity, without worrying about reading the actual book, packed full as it is with self-indulgent jokes and supposedly self-referential, tiredly postmodern, paragraph-long descriptions that describe writing those very same paragraphs.

Titled after the room that Schubert holes up in (paid for by a couple of wealthy friends) while he entertains a rotating circus of well-wishers, there are shows of occasional promise, with Schubert likening his actual illness to the ‘cancer’ of the stinking rich. Schubert does not exempt himself from criticism, and makes no attempt to come across sympathetically. He has a major strop at hotel staff, which is played out in horrifying detail when they lose a dinner reservation, for example.

Yet Schubert’s peers are worse. At dinner with two art collector friends, ‘Victoria and Albert’ (Schubert intersperses obvious fiction with apparent fact throughout), the couple moan about their private jet having been stuck in a holding pattern over Basel, causing them to miss the essential opening hours of Art Basel, and about how they can’t find a decent home in London to go with their other four elsewhere. Even the outwardly nicer ones have flares of arsehole idiocy. On a visit to a Mayfair gallery another friend gets ‘snappy’ when an assistant points out that a Mondrian painting is from the artist’s pre-Paris phase because it’s signed with two As in the surname. ‘What a patronizing little shit,’ she rages.

There’s a hint that it has taken his health scare to sharpen Schubert’s mind to this rotten sense of privilege. He says the Mayfair hotel is ‘the epicentre of it all’, and later, during a minibreakdown, which a therapist blames on the trauma of recovery, Schubert writes, ‘Suddenly to my inner eye the whole edifice of Claridge’s comes crashing down’. Yet most of these occasional sparks of what could have been an intricately woven evaluation of a life and career serving the rich and getting rich sadly just get lost among the wisecracks and gimmicks. 

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue.