The stories are nastily funny – sick jokes – and Etchells is a latter-day Menippean satirist. The biggest influence on his early stories, he notes in an afterword, was Mark E Smith of the band the Fall, whose lyrics were glorious, ferocious rages. “Some persons have accused that these writings are full of narrational gaps and sudden perplexing changes of topic brought abt by my total failure to appreciate that the reader does not share important vital background information which I possess. However it is my intention to continue regardless.” The book is horrible, brilliant, deliberately provoking. At times I wished it was over; now I wish it had never stopped.
The orality of these morality tales is absolutely thrilling: the conversational tone (“Anyway”), the textspeak-style abbreviations and liberal use of expletives; the poetic malapropisms (“flesh of lightning”, “of curse”) and frequent phonetic spelling conjure up a dialect that seems to be in the process of becoming – one that is close to the “morning of language”, to quote Anne Carson. Our dystopian times are estranged through the childlike innocence of this narrative voice – with its flashes of tender whimsy that recall Richard Brautigan – as though the chronicles of Endland were being told by the BFG.
Etchells’s punchy collection has appeared at the right moment, offering an incisive commentary on the current social and political omnishambles. This essential book is just what we need right now, and more than we deserve.
Etchells adopts a vernacular grammar (“things was going alright”) and homophonic misspellings (hole for whole, nite for night), and a direct, reported style. It’s a cracklingly original voice, and the stories are very funny. Plenty of fun is had with classical allusions: a woman falls so far through the welfare safety net that she ends up in Plato’s cave, while Greek taxi driver Antagonistes is chained behind a Ladbrokes so eagles can nightly feast on his liver. Dipping into Endland provides a delightful dose of nastiness. Taken as a whole, however, the collection can seem a little one-note.