Aria Fritta is Ellis Sharp’s 9th title to date and his most recent (others include The Dump, Unbelievable Things, Lenin’s Trousers, To Wanstonia, Giacinta’s clams, Aleppo Button, Driving My Baby Back Home and Engels on Video). All are published by London’s marvellous Zoilus Press. But I could be quite wrong, as very little is known about this writer, there are probably countless more chap-books and pamphlets written by him circulating the back rooms of smoky subterranean cafés and independent bookstores the width and breath of Great Britain. You see, Ellis Sharp is that kind of writer, his prose (some would say surreal social commentary) is suffocating in its closeness and accuracy yet he, the writer, is as achingly distant and remote as can be and I, for one, like that about him, it’s quite a refreshing change in this age of crass commercialism. You certainly don’t see Ellis Sharp’s face leering out from yet another ubiquitous Borders high-street publicity blitzkrieg, oh no, budding readers have to search high and wide for this man, his work is passed down via word of mouth from one reader to another, his books sitting on the shelves of those rickety eons-old bookshops down dark alleyways the rabble just daren’t tread. Ellis Sharp is the genuine article – ever-so bitter-sweet, fervently underground and as Avant Garde as it gets in this rugged, idiosyncratic little isle. And the great thing is – he’ll probably hate me for saying it.
Aria Fritta comprises of forty-four short-short stories (some barely a page long). So what do we get? Well, Dubya gets stuck on level one of Goldeneye. An alien from Pluto tries its hand at a little earthly suburban domesticity. A young boy reacts to his first encounter with sweetcorn. A national TV treasure is targeted by the local vermin catcher. The Presidents penis is mistaken for a UFO. A sausage factory isn’t all that it appears to be. And a Puerperal Fever invades the land causing mass literary clichés. Yes, this is an odd, odd assortment. The whole collection can be read in one sitting or delved into at random – either way it does exactly what it says on the tin. And when you’re through with it you’re going to want to read the whole lot again. Believe me. For those of you who don’t already know Aria Fritta literally translates from the Italian as: Fried Air. A term the Italians use with punch when someone is talking absolute nonsense. But let’s get one thing straight: Ellis Sharp’s Aria Fritta is no book of nonsense. This book makes complete sense. Aria Fritta continues, with utter verve and conviction, the same vitriolic journey William Burroughs started in Naked Lunch – attacking all that is corrupt and absurd; waving its critical baton in the face of society’s accepted myopia’s, bourgeois follies and the sickening ubiquity of consumer-driven decadence and ambivalence. And Ellis Sharp’s weapon? Surreal, humorous, absurd acts of wild metaphor of course. But beneath all this clever tomfoolery lies a bona fide anger, an anger so ostensible it positively permeates from each page. It is this fury which propels the reader towards one hapless target after another. So who/what are Ellis Sharp’s targets? Judging from Aria Fritta just about everyone and everything; including US Presidents, George Bush, power, people of power, the abuse of power, society, society as construct, normality, social ambivalence, consumerism, capitalism, politics, the right, the left, the novel, the novelist, the Play Station generation (a self-flagellatory love of Ellis Sharp’s own it seems) – to name but a few.
The anger which fuels the surreal Aria Fritta paradoxically gives this collection a heavy dose of realism. We, as readers, just cannot ignore the underlying meaning of such vignettes, especially within our tumultuous epoch. As a collection of short fiction Ellis Sharp gets to his aim quite early – this is fiction as construct. A metafiction of spiralling maze-like metaphor and literary trapdoors. In Tom’s Childhood Trauma we see characterization used for this very purpose. In a clever nod and a wink to the work of B. S Johnson (whose spectre seems to willingly pervade at various intervals) we see young Tom fully aware of his purpose within the narrative, enough to have saved his first “gasp of Breath” for the narratives pivotal moment. Ellis Sharp, in the same way B. S. Johnson gave thought to space, sentence and paragraph, pulls the reader away from descriptive cul-de-sacs via omniscient characterization in the narrative. For example, in a longer story, Vermin, the narrator instructs the reader with nonchalance:
“Believing a rush of new paragraphs would break up the monotony of the printed page at this point (interestingly, this was just six weeks before he read Christie Marly’s Own Double Entry), Dr Bananes paused.”
Ellis Sharp uses his constructed characters to steer and encourage the reader within the narrative. With Vermin and Tom’s Childhood Trauma we see a debunking, a severe mocking of all bourgeois literary constructs – and, indeed, the literary status quo. Aria Fritta, in this respect, is an anti-narrative with literary, social and political purpose, in the same way we see writers such as Stuart Home delivering, novel after novel, bowel busting blows into the flabby, fat, self-indulgent gut of established intellectual form, Aria Fritta is yet more proof that literary fiction has imploded and is finally moving on again. But this doesn’t necessarily mean Ellis Sharp is anti-intellectual, he isn’t, and how can he be? His point has been sharpened with precision and when thrust it hits home. Ellis Sharp’s take on 9/11, for instance, is both refreshing and brutally honest. Ellis Sharp quite often aims straight for the jugular, quite literally. In Sausages a story which follows a conveyor belt in a sausage making factory the cow is substituted with a line of new-born babies awaiting their slaughter – babies procured via the internet one might add. Please bear with me. Vermin sticks a jagged dagger straight through the absurd notion that such procedures in the slaughterhouse/abattoir/meat industry are harmless to the animal. When the reader is forced to visualise each new-born baby, just like a row of dead cows, hanging from “hooks inserted into each baby’s rectum” it is hard to swallow the – overused and hackneyed – nonsensical diatribe of the meat industry (we’ve all heard it before and still seem to accept it) and the brutality begins to hit home: “humanely stunned”, “a simple slicing device which causes no discomfort what-so-ever”, “decapitated in a manner which causes the absolute minimum distress and discomfort. Good use is made of the heads, which are pulverised in a crusher. Powdered bone is high in both fibre and nutrients. Some is manufactured into cakes which provide a nutritious mid-day snack for babies in the truck cages on the long journey to Ireland. The rest is mixed with amputated and crushed toes to provide an excellent fertiliser sold under the brand name Naythan’s Garden-Gro”. I think we kind of get the picture. But it’s not all blood and guts. The book is hilarious, and will have many a reader smirking and guffawing.
But hold on, Ellis Sharp is not for everyone, how could he be? That would simply be absurd. Aria Fritta, though, is an important collection, just as Ellis Sharp is an important lone voice, confidently treading water in a commercial sea of filth and wretchedness. Ellis Sharp is simply rising above it and, most importantly, doing it his own way. The little man is starting to bite back and his voice is beginning to be heard. Ellis Sharp is a writer we should be seeking out in a climate such as ours – and I predict he will be. The insurrection starts here. Certain readers are beginning to turn their backs on the conglomerates, we’ve lost faith and Ellis Sharp and Zoilus Press will be where we turn to. And dare I say it, yes I will damn you, literary fiction is most definitely cool again. And I for one am quite deliriously happy about that.
Lee Rourke © 2005.
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