Feb 1, 2014

REVIEW: BYRON EASY

From my New York Times review:—
How disgusting the British find themselves! Let me rephrase that. If you were to go by the output of a certain strand of young, male British fiction writer, you could easily be forgiven for thinking the main activity of British life is being disgusted by the physical form of oneself and one’s fellows. Ian McEwan famously began a short story noting the peculiar smell that asparagus lends the urine (“it suggests sexual activity of some kind between exotic creatures…”). Martin Amis spent large parts of his early career detailing his character’s bleeding gums and cracked molars. Will Self’s books come so awash in bodily fluids, that throw any of them against a wall and they will likely stick. Male self-disgust, rooted in the moist tumult of adolescence, and extended into one’s twenties and thirties under cover of literary careers apeing the clinical imperturbality of Nabokov and Joyce, has almost bequethed us its own genre, which we might call, in the manner of those outraged letters to British broadsheets,   “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.” And now we have Byron Easy, the young hero of Jude Cook’s debut novel bearing his name, sandwiched between the “Hogarthian mob” of an intercity train bearing him from the “piss-filled” underpasses and “haggard” pigeons of “sewery, dogshitty London” (p44), towards his home-town in the North of England.  Byron is a poet of the self-published and permanently wine-stained variety, his single claim to fame being a pamphlet of poems entitled Hours of Endlessness. In flight from a collapsed marriage, he busies himself with unforgiving inventory of his fellow passengers (those “hawkers, tutters, scratchers, groaners, verbal diarrhoics, carol-hummers, dribblers, tongue-lollers”)  before zeroing in on a subject much closer to home: his ex-wife— his hatred of whom is to provide the engine of Cook’s 500-page comic novel with its furnace.   

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