scarecrow reviews


Matthew McIntosh - Well

Matthew McIntosh - Well.


"Maybe not always, but a lot of the time, it doesn't matter where I actually am, it's all the same..." And so starts this Sisyphean caterwaul - something scarecrow can relate to. Seven chapters of this tidy debut have the same title: "It's taking so damn long to get here." Each exemplifies the point of this book adroitly. First things first Well is a debut of prosodic virtuoso. The book is rattled by, spattered with and soaked to the bone by voices - it is a loud book (in the Gaddisian sense of the word). Well is set in a working-class American wasteland, Seattle to be precise and each of its character's are embroiled in, or escaping from disparate situations they can see no exit from. Some characters make fleeting appearances within the narrative, others more substantial, but all - in some way or another - are lost in a dark chasm of no escaping: A dark well, if you will allow me. Well is a classic debut, brimming with all the right ingredients - male angst, dissatisfaction - that help to drive such writers. But, it is Matthew McIntosh's prose style that screams the loudest. It is quite simply breathtaking in its density. Plot? A multi-narrative gone askew. The disparate of a working-class Seattle suburb eke out miserable existences while clinging on to the vain hope that something else, something better, or anything is just around the next corner. It isn't, of course. You get the picture. Debuts such as Well are seldom published - and if they are we rarely see them. Increasingly we see mainstream publishers taking fewer risks, ignoring such fresh work. Well is testimony to the realization that forward-thinking fiction can still find the support it so necessarily needs. Faber are publishing this gem over here - if only they would have the same trust in similar home-grown talent. Their last big-hitter also a state-side voice. But, as readers, we must continue to seek out these gems. Well is cutting, acerbic, dry and ravaged by every disappointment felt - this wearisome lament is a wretched, yet strangely heartwarming tale and McIntosh seems to have the ability to suck out all that is real and honest from the deepest of wounds. Well is pure dissatisfaction, a smudge, a long scratch through the white, pristine wall of contemporary fiction. Throw away Palahniuk's studied nihilism and think Manhattan Transfer with extra bite. In the wise argot of Shaun Ryder: double good.

Lee Rourke © 2005.


Charles Portis - True Grit

Charles Portis - True Grit.


A while back scarecrow opined that the American novel literally oozed voice. And here, quite frankly, is proof of just that. Charles Portis is a writer who can draw the reader into his narrative. Just ask Donna Tartt, she has “loved this book” since she was a child - as have her mother and grandmother (not since children you understand). We very rarely hear that much from Donna Tartt in the media so her introduction to this Bloomsbury edition is quite refreshing. And the book itself? (We’re not concerned with the film adaptation staring John Wayne). Well, True Grit is quite mesmerizing in its simplicity. It follows fourteen-year-old Mattie as she travels to claim her father’s – Frank Ross – body, gunned down in cold bitter blood by Tom Chancey. Along the way Mattie realizes that the authorities are doing nothing to find Chancey. Mattie soon bumps into Rooster – a man who possess, well he’s said to at least, oh the suspense, true grit. At this juncture the book begins to move as Rooster pulls Mattie with him deep down into Indian Country to help avenge her father’s murder. The book is quite a simple little tale really, as most good books are. True Grit is a bitter-sweet lament with a voice and inner-drive that is at once immediate and terse yet always comforting. Portis captures, one imagines, the idioms of the American South with passion, accuracy and aplomb. On the whole True Grit taps into the uncomplicated regions of the human condition, those same signifiers we can all relate to at once: pain, revenge, longing and love. Portis doesn’t overstep the mark and it is within this clarity of narrative True Grit gains its strength. This marvellous little cult classic is a book that thoroughly deserves the acclaim it is now receiving. And, like other American cult classics, such as Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn, True Grit is completely accessible to all. Read this book.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

posted by scarecrow  # 11:50 PM
The Others - The Others

The Others - The Others.


It has to be said that live The Others are tremendous, but transferred to record, well, um, they sound pretty bad I'm afraid. This eponymously titled album is literally split asunder, straight down the middle like a scratch in your favourite record, its dichotomy's and schism's ostensible to all - in the blue corner we have lead vocalist Mr Dominic Masters and in the red his fellow band mates. Can the failure of any debut be more clear cut than this? I doubt it. This record is haunted, let down, nay, dragged down by Mr Masters and it cannot be saved. Never have such adolescent, juvenile downright appallingly laughable and ridiculous lyrics been heard since, well, story-time at the nursery. For instance (from Stan Bowels): "I'd stare at your eyes as you helped the children You're quoting Voltaire or Ginsburg to the adorned in your kitchen Sipping ice tea in the summer Victoria park, yeah" Apparently this little number is about Pete Doherty and not the QPR legend. Or how about this (from current hit Lackey): "Wanna escape for a while I'll get a new idea I'll start up a band get a brand new plan find some way out of here You need some way to be free that's not just a dreeeeaam YOU NEED SOME WAY TO BE FREE THAT'S NOT JUST A DREEEEEAAAAAAM CHICKA-CHICKA-CHICKOWWWWW" I'm not even going to mention the sublimely ridiculous (from This is for the Poor): "This is for the poor and not you rich kids..." Okay fair enough Mr Masters, your atonal warbling voice is starting to grate now - and it really is a bad voice, you could say more Wurzel Gummidge than Iggy Pop. But miraculously, somehow, this record hits you. How? One may wonder. Bassist Johnny Others that's how - his punk-tinged Mancunian-esque bass pulls this record back from the brink. Tracks such as Psycho Vision seriously move along, rumbling with the same desires that make tracks of this ilk great. Music for the hell of it. Bowel-busting cool. Johnny Others steers the listener away from Mr Masters childish rants and the entire record is wondrously saved - just. But I don't think this is enough. The sad thing about this record is the underlying feeling the rest of the band do not seem to acquiesce with Mr Masters' teenage diatribe. And does Dominic Masters seem to care? I seriously doubt it. A shame really. Let's hope I'm wrong, because for the way this raggletaggle outfit treats its fans alone they deserve all the success in the world. So what can I say other than this is no Definitely Maybe and is a weak debut? Not much. This shows, but what the hell does that matter? I'm just a lone voice in the wind. The kids love it it'll be a huge hit. Go and see them live now.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

posted by scarecrow  # 1:33 PM


John Fante - Ask the Dust
John Fante - Ask the Dust

Say hello to Charles Bukowski's "God". Say hello to America's forgotten literary tour de force. Say hello to a mad, aberrant, mellifluous genius of the written word (and yes I did utter the word "genius" just then): John Fante, author of Ask the Dust. A scathing lament, a paean to lost love, an elegy dedicated to the individual spirit - for this is the world of Fante's wonderful anti-hero: Arturo Bandini. You'll be pleased to meet him, though the chances are he may not reciprocate such conviviality. Arturo's world is a Nietzschean caterwaul beneath a bright Californian backdrop. Never, to my knowledge, has Los Angeles been so honestly depicted and laid bare. Twenty-one year old Arturo is living in a squalid Bunker Hill hotel where, amongst other solipsistic predilections, his primary concerns are writing and sex. It is before this sun-drenched panorama Arturo's literary and romantic dreams are realised - yet never quite fulfilled. Arturo's whole existence circulates around Camilla Lopez, a Mexican waitress with fire in her soul, whom he dedicates each waking hour pursuing. A classic love/hate relationship is cast and it is in these bitter/sweet exchanges we see John Fante's writing at its very best - heavy with dry humour, tender, acerbic, sonorous and temperate. Ask the Dust, ultimately, assists as a conduit linking the outside with race, American prejudices, politics and an individuals position in a society that is, ostensibly, incongruous and empty. The microcosm in which Arturo Bandini walks is ultimately a window for us to gaze into and Ask the Dust is, indeed, a book we should all own.

Lee Rourke © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 10:16 AM
Albert Camus - Between Hell and Reason
Albert Camus - Between Hell and Reason

This book, whilst chronologically following the events of the French Resistance and the German occupation of France, also serves as a concise insight into the political philosophies behind such noted works as The Outsider , The Plague , The Myth of Sisyphus , The Rebel and, more importantly, the man himself. With an unmitigated introduction by Elizabeth Young-Bruehl and a clear translation by Alexander De Garmont this collection of Combat (Parisian resistance Newspaper) editorials fully illustrates Camus' underlying beliefs throughout some of the most tumultuous events of his short epoch. Each editorial is journalistically laconic and deeply personal. Each conveying an intrinsic belief of the imperative and that man is ultimately wrong. Always a bastion of revolt Camus' sought to find an alternative solution to the prisons created by our own very actions and beliefs. This collection should be read for what it is - a mind at work demanding the impossible. Always searching, contradicting, sifting and longing for that clear answer.

Lee Rourke © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 10:13 AM
The Others - Stan Bowles
Stan Bowles - The Others.

Okay, the jury's still out concerning this ramshackle lot. Live The Others are exciting, on record they are awkward and flat. Please allow me to elucidate. On stage frontman Dominic Masters (I won't mention the recent slimy NME interview or the, alleged, Crack habit) is the business, he prowls, wails, leaps, freaks out, charms and basically does what the hell he pleases. It is a pleasure to be in the same room as him. On record we get none of this, Masters' voice is idiosyncratic and plain annoying at times. But don't misconstrue me, Stan Bowles moves in a bass-driven British way. Bassist Johnny Others probably could be the bands hero, the man can play, he knows his history and he can fill a room with his hair alone (maybe himself and Miss Wainwright should acquaint themselves - Ed). The song? Well it uses the topsy-turvy mercurial life of QPR and Carlisle legend Stan Bowles as a (not too subtle) analogy for Pete Doherty's similarly tainted genius (yawn). Lyrically plain, but still bouncing with snarling energy. This is their second single to date and we still await a make or break album. Go and see The Others live, maybe buy the record, before it all comes crumbling down...Because that's what happens with these type of bands, isn't it?

Lee Rourke © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 10:11 AM
Rufus Wainwright - The Barbican
Rufus Wainwright Friday 29th October, The Barbican Centre

Last time I saw Rufus it was an altogether more family affair, with mothers, aunts, cousins and sisters all vying for centre stage. This show was most certainly focused on the man himself, although support remained from his sister Martha who began the evening with a huge voice, lyrical obscenities and a wayward leg clearly requiring a stage of its own. Rufus followed with a satisfying mix of songs from all three of his albums pleasing an audience that was already firmly converted. From the burlesque strains of 'Matinee Idol', the intimacy of 'Dinner at Eight' and most successfully the bigger band numbers of the 'Want One' album Rufus performed as if he wished his whole life was spent on stage. With two encores clearly anticipated and eagerly given it is easy to imagine a young Rufus with visions of Judy Garland songs and an adoring audience. Both of which were in attendance tonight. There were, of course, the more serious moments with references to the upcoming elections (at time of writing - Ed) and a tribute to Jeff Buckley including a rendition of 'Hallelujah', warmly received with the knowledge that this was as close as it could get. Other than this Rufus concentrated on his own repertoire and produced big song after big song whether alone with his piano or accompanied by his band. The attraction lay in the joy with which every number was performed and received and bar a few audience members unable to prevent themselves from being, well themselves, the evening was a pleasure.

GRE © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 10:03 AM
To the End of the World - Blaise Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars - To the End of the World.

Firstly, I don't think you can actually call this a review. You'll see what I mean as you read on. Okay, this is a bugle call, a rallying of the troops, a call to arms for the cause of one man if you will. It couldn't be construed as anything else and, quite frankly, I wouldn't want it to be. So I'll begin: There's something refreshingly different about reading Blaise Cendrars, but to be honest I haven't quite worked out just what it is yet - and the simple fact that I never will makes it all the more appealing. But how did I ever find him in the first place? Maybe it had something to do with Henry Miller once calling Cendrars "...the most contemporary of contemporaries". I just had to seek him out and was instantly hooked (found a bedraggled 'Collected Works' in a second-hand bookshop). I don't know, there's just something utterly unique between the pages of a book written by Blaise Cendrars. To the End of the World is definitely bawdy and lends itself to the surreal, a chaotic mish-mash, a twirling, spiraling fiasco, a marvellous work of imagination that reveals itself before a seedy 1940's Parisian backdrop. This is the Paris Henry Miller longed to find, but somehow couldn't. But, please allow me the indulgence, To the End of the World is much more than the work of pure invention, it is Cendrars' Roman-a-clef. In it is hidden the clues to his crazy, nomadic, adventurous life. The women, the prostitutes, the vagabonds, the urchins, the aristocrats, the deserters, the thieves and pimps. They all pay a short, shuddering visit. The pages reek of lost, desperate dreams, the underbelly of society, the rancid off-cuts left to the dogs - a sour montage of ego and vanity left to rot in the gutter, kicked about in the wind and ultimately snubbed by any passing stranger that cares to look down his/her nose. To the End of the World is a special book indeed. We follow the daily trivialities of Therese, a septuagenarian actress long gone to seed, clinging on to an era long vanished, eking out a living sponging off various men and barfly's alike and opening her legs at any given opportunity. From the outset Therese is happy dedicating herself to a young, violent deserter from the Foreign Legion. In these achingly sad trysts we see Therese acting out her lost dreams, trying to regain something she never really had in the first place, before she is suddenly held for questioning over the murder of a local barman. And here the hapless, disparate Therese begins her final, appalling decent into oblivion. And Blaise Cendrars is there to capture every minute detail. Cendrars' writing is colourful, snappy, allegorical and terse - he plays with the image, polishing it until gleaming and then delightfully plunges it into the darkening squalid, gloopy quagmire with aplomb and glee. As it has been said before, there really isn't anything quite like reading Blaise Cendrars. To the End of the World is an often funny, manic, yet bleak tale of excessive vanity, written by one of Europe's lost avant garde imaginations. It can only be a good thing that his words are back with us again.

LEE ROURKE © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 10:00 AM
Stewart Home and Nicholas Blincoe...
Stewart Home and Nicholas Blincoe - Filthy MacNasty's 20 Nov 04.

Most people already know about Filthy MacNasty's history, so I wont elucidate further. It seemed quite a fitting environment to sit sipping a few drinks while listening to a couple of extremely talented (if not stylistically similar) writers. Both turned up fashionably late, keeping a buoyant crowd of around seventy people waiting - not that anyone was too bothered. A Filthy MacNasty's crowd is a seen-it-all-before-worn-the-t-shirt affair. After
3AM's compere coolly introduced the two writers, a sartorially elegant and somewhat nervous Nicholas Blincoe took to the stage (well, microphone), and without a customary over-long preamble began to read from his critically well received Burning Paris. Sadly he made for difficult listening, adding to my assumption that almost all writers bitterly disappoint when reading from their own work. Why do they do this to themselves? Asked two of my companions. I shrugged and tried to explain that it was the presence of the writer that counted - but I felt I was fooling even myself in this assumption. Blincoe unapologetically stumbled and staggered (just like the drunken old man sitting at our table) around his chosen snippet. It was a shame, his exceptionally precise prose deserved better. In his defence, though, he was having to tackle the intruding drone from The Ramones (yes, it's that kind of establishment) seeping through the bar from the speakers in the other room - and a somewhat aloof, uninterested barmaid, collecting glasses and emptying ashtrays, clearly too cool for such literary matters. Blincoe rather sheepishly passed over the reading to Stewart Home to some rather enthusiastic (and somewhat sympathetic) applause. Now, Stewart Home has presence for such a small, unassuming man. He's got that surly look, that something behind the eyes. His striking girlfriend even more so. I was impressed:

I suppose you want me to read from
Down and out in Shoreditch and Hoxton?

Well yes, Stewart. I was even more impressed when he began to rattle off the opening chapter of his most recent novel completely from memory and without the obligatory manuscript or precious tome at hand - word for word. He prowled the stage, snarling off sentences with venom. It was quite special to witness. He then rattled through the hilarious "ventriloquist's Dummy" chapter from
69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, again word for word, then treating us all to an incredibly in-your-face snippet from his vulgar post-modern novel Cunt. I must admit that I was heartily impressed with the man - but then again I would be, having lovingly devoured most of his work. The unemotional detachment he poured into each pornographic scene conveyed his point all the more clearly. It was easy to get him, so to speak. When finished Stewart Home skulked away, handing the microphone back over to, an even more terrified looking, Nicholas Blincoe. But he was fine:

You make me seem so bourgeois, Stewart...


Came a voice from the crowd. Blincoe laughed and this seemed to relax him a little, his second stab at reading being far more accomplished than the first. But, alas, by then it was too late, Stewart Home had already left his mark. The
3AM compere ended the proceedings and let the numerous toadies and sycophants swarm around each writer (I have no idea what these people say) while I slipped over to the bar, taking advantage of the momentary space. Reasonable night really.

LEE ROURKE © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 9:54 AM
Dan Yack - Blaise Cendrars

Dan Yack - Blaise Cendrars.

In 1973 The Times Literary supplement, upon the posthumous publication of Guillaume Apollinaire's 'Les Onze Mille Verges', commented: "...Apollinaire was very much Apollinaire". And after reading him this oddity makes perfect sense. Well, if this is the case then the very same can be said about our man Mr Blaise Cendrars - most certainly. So we start with Cendrars' alter-ego: Dan Yack, the wildly eccentric English shipping millionaire "hell-raiser" and all round "envy of St Petersburg" - that is until he is ceremoniously dumped by the love of his life and found drunkenly writhing in a puddle of horse piss in the street, upon which he walks into the nearest bar and promptly falls asleep under the nearest table, finally waking up to find it occupied by three men whom he persuades to join him on a round the world voyage on his ship. Strange stuff indeed. Cendrars was famous for writing himself into his fiction - quite an easy task being quite a fictional character himself. Blaise Cendrars being the nom de plume of Frederic-Louis Sauser, a man who's whole life seemed to be purposely mythologized and interwoven with poetic embellishments. Blaise Cendrars never openly revealed himself - never honestly anyway. We see just what he wanted us to see. On reading Blaise Cendrars he is at once erratic, spiritual, tender, vitriolic, malicious, lucid and confusing. He broke every literary rule in the book and then, in tune with the mystical cliche he created, rewrote every last one of them. A strange, odd being. Everything a writer should be. Dan Yack, as with all Blaise Cendrars fiction, mixes fiction with fact with outright flights of imagination, the resulting novel leaning more on side with the fantastic rather than the fictional. Is it a travel yarn? A Roman-a-clef? A raucous lament? Put your hard earned money on all three I say - and then some. The novel follows the voyage and exploits of Dan Yack and his three companions: the artists Arkadie Goischman, a Jewish poet; Ivan Sabakov, a peasant sculptor and Andre Lamont, a French musician. Of course the voyage is doomed from the very outset - it couldn't be anything but - and it isn't long until the good ship GREEN STAR becomes stranded in pack-ice. With foolish arrogance Dan Yack orders the entire crew onto land - and it is here the novel takes its maddening turn. Do they have enough provisions? Will they keep their sanity throughout the harsh polar winter? Not a chance. The ensemble is doomed from start to finish. Arkadie Goischman loses his mind, Ivan Sabakov becomes obsessed with Dan Yack and Andre Lamont decides to smash up everything in sight - all this while Dan Yack himself ponders the sorry fact that he has lost the love of his life: Hedwiga. Unrequited love is most definitely not a bore. Blaise Cendrars' prose is unquestionably unique - almost alarmingly so. Yet, at times it borders on literary cliche itself, but for the sheer inventiveness and imaginative leaps in narrative and voice that never fail in pulling the prose back from the brink just at the right moment - and for the reader this is just what makes a book by this author so rewarding. Blaise Cendrars, maybe it's his swirling imaginative mix, his heady fictional mish-mash, his being different anyway that helps. Not surprising, given his French/Swiss/Scottish ancestry. Whatever it is, whatever they put in his veins, Blaise Cendrars positively reeked of it and it poured out from every pour like liquid gold. Henry Miller once tried to explain: "Everything is written in blood, but a blood that is saturated with starlight. You can look clean through him and see the planets wheeling. The silence he creates is deafening. It takes you back to the beginning of the world, to that hush which is engraved on the face of mystery." Bravo Henry! I couldn't have put it better myself. This mish-mash mirrored Blaise Cendrars' self-mythologized life, his life being as hectic - if not more so - than any of his books, but still, somehow, set in concrete, still and defined - whether embellished incident or absolute fact. Where, exactly, hasn't this man been to? What, for instance, hasn't he done? A truly wondrous mystery. So why, oh why is Blaise Cendrars not up there with the big guns? Most people I've spoken to - and I'd drop them all into the little dusty folder in my head entitled: BOOK PEOPLE - have never heard of poor old Cendrars, let alone read anything by him. This utterly perplexes me, but maybe I'm just not mixing in the right circles, I don't know. I'm starting to babble, I'll stop. So back to Dan Yack: with his companions raving mad, the ice-caps melting, the advent of the First World War looming on the horizon and poor old broken hearted Dan Yack, the novel's hectic conclusion is somewhat fraught. Dan Yack is a marvellous book to read - a pure baptism of fire for a Blaise Cendrars virgin. Read it and weep long tears of happiness goodbye, goodbye, goodbye to every other writer you've ever admired. Seriously, because Blaise Cendrars is very much Blaise Cendrars.

LEE ROURKE © 2004.

posted by scarecrow  # 9:50 AM
Aria Fritta - Ellis Sharp.

Aria FrittaEllis Sharp.


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.

posted by scarecrow  # 12:48 AM


The Astonished Man - Blaise Cendrars.

The Astonished Man - Blaise Cendrars.


In his candid preface Jeff Bursey quotes Blaise Cendrars from a letter to the painter Robert Delaunay circa 1917, in it Cendrars proclaims: "I don't want to be part of the gang. I am not behind, as you say, but ahead...It all belongs to yesterday, not to today. I will be visible tomorrow. Today, I'm working". This little snippet of pure Cendrars arrogance is the true crux to his thinking and his workman-like philosophy. For, indeed, Cendrars was a worker, a real writer who experienced life in all its various phases and then put pen to paper until he was happy with the result. And the end result? Well, think big, elongated works of surreal humour, deadpan caricature, heartbreaking melancholy and a virtuoso prose style matched by few. Blaise Cendrars never ceased working, he liked it that way and this fiery dynamo never gave in. So what is The Astonished Man? Well, it's a memoir with a difference - the simple difference being it was written by Blaise Cendrars. As a writers writer Blaise Cendrars knew many, he also mixed with actors, filmmakers, poets, artists and aristocrats; yet none are mentioned in this so called memoir. In The Astonished Man Cendrars litters his narrative, not with the artists of his generation but with the Gypsies he met on his travels, the pimps, the prostitutes, the thieves; he takes the reader from the First World War trenches across vast continents in sprawling, complex, sonorous sentences that lift the reader out of the humdrum. Blaise Cendrars wrote against the grain in a style that preceded Gonzo luminaries such as Hunter. S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe a good thirty years or so. His reportage was assiduous, garrulous and inimitable. Taciturn in nature with an honest voice that somehow manages to shine through all the vainglorious bombast and braggadocio. Admittedly this boastful book is difficult to absorb and at times quite antiquated in world views, but, as in most of his books, the unique structure and prose style lift you away from such thoughts, snatched in the blink of an eye, hoodwinked and press-ganged back for the remainder of his journey - like it or not. And for this Cendrars needs to be saluted; a man who created his own myth and then pissed all over it, a man who knew the power of form, a man who embellished a story for the sheer excitement it caused, a man whose tone and pitch could balance absurd reasoning with melancholic pathos without straining the weight of each measured line; and finally a man who lived for the written word/world and nothing else. Blaise Cendrars and The Astonished Man is worth reading for this if nothing else.

Lee Rourke © 2005.


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