Our Year in Books 2017

by M.J. Nicholls

My Back Pages by Steven Moore (Zerogram)

The 400+ pages of reviews that open this fabulous collection serve as a crash course in the sort of literature Moore champions: weirdo, schizo-titzo, experimentalisticalidocius, off the map completely, barking mad and brilliant, and so on. Each turn of the page presents the reader with a new name (Cydney Chadwick? Dame Darcy?! Antonio Lobo Antunes?!?), and an airtight case for reading each title at once. The second half of the book is an assemblage of Moore’s stand-alone essays, introductions, oddball academic performances, and other Moorcellaneous wonders. Gaddis fans will whoop at the material on The Recognitions (alongside Darconville’s Cat, Moore’s ur-text), and Theroux nuts will howl at the attention paid to his supreme novels. Perhaps more exciting are the long entertaining essays on lesser-known names, peripheral folks like Chandler Brossard, Alan Ansen, Sheri Martinelli, Edward Dahlberg, and Brigid Brophy, some of whose works are in print thanks to Moore’s efforts. The final section rounds up a few personal pieces, including a short review of ‘Nympholepsy’ in literature, and a preface to his two-volume alt-history of the novel. This monolithic tome showcases a career’s worth of passionate devotion to and razor-sharp readings of the kind of literature that inspires such actions: long might Mr. Moore continue reviewing and writing and championing the underdogs.

Bodies of Summer by Martin Felipe Castagnet (Dalkey Archive)

A haunting first novel from an Argentine writer and editor. Pitched rather like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s incredible Black Mirror series, the plot considers the rituals in a world where the dead exist forever on the internet, and where new bodies can be purchased at the end of one’s natural life, allowing a form of immortality in the physical world, pending one’s means to splash out on prime flesh. The protagonist of this short novel finds himself inhabiting the folds of an overweight middle-aged woman and coping with the complexity of his ever-expanding family, and the multiple generations of net-dead and new-bodied souls with whom he must interact. A mind-bending dystopian fantasy, not always as satisfying as its premise, but a weird and worrying what-if.

Fragments of Lichtenberg by Pierre Senges (Dalkey Archive)

Senges’s swanking maximalist opus has on paper all the elements to tantalise: a colossal erudition on show, an astonishing felicity with language, a shamelessly rococo prose style somewhat Therouvian, an hilarious swatting of cacademics, an abundance of lists ranging from obscure to obscuriouser, a continuous skewering of the fake and the real, a lot of fun with marginalia, and a dry, satirical sense of humour. This novel has those elements in superabundance, however, the excess tends to exhaust. Every other paragraph spirals into long digressive arcane ramblings, to the point where the meaning is lost, or into ref-stuffed sentences that spiral on and on into more terms and research in a beefed-up baroque pastiche that is not always welcomingly clever. Fragments of Lichtenberg, in skewering the world of cacademic verbiage and obsessive pedantry, ends up falling in love with its world, and as a result, revels in the stirring up of theories, fake histories, and self-adoring sentences, and kicks the reader to the kerb.

Frontier by Can Xue (Open Letter)

Can Xue imagine(s) an airtight surreal alt-real populated by headless men, wolves and geckos, shifting mountains, and a Design Institute that serves no real function(?). In Frontier, China’s “premier writer of the avant-garde, an experimental trickster” (Porochista Khakpour) creates a striking sequence of happenings in the lives various unusuals, foremost of whom is the wild Liujin. Xue calls her style “material writing”, and takes “our Great Nature, especially our dark Earth Mother”, as her subject. The landscape and the characters are entwined in mysterious and inexplicable ways, and across the novel time, place, people, and events are woven together in a timeless flux. The novel’s impish fluidity and improvisation that keeps the reader charmed, amused, and ensorcelled.

What To Do by Pablo Katchadjian / Absinth by Seb Doubinsky (Dalkey Archive)

An absurd rondo with Albert and I, What To Do is one of the funniest fictions to appear in a while. Teaching at an English university, and often ending up made of rags, the twosome morph through a sequence of surreal scenarios, each a theme and variation on the last or an earlier, each more amusing than the previous. Literate, lyrical, and loopy. And Seb Doubinsky’s Absinth, released around the same time, is also a refreshing rendezvous with the peculiar, featuring a cast of characters constructed around the wit of the author, narratives interspersed with interruptions from God and rolling news reports. The free-floating form and fluid fun of the three main stories will keep the reader tickled for the one sitting required.

Slipping by John Toomey (Dalkey Archive)

A meta-murder narrative. Local novelist Charlie Vaughan is hired to write the events leading up to the murder of Val Jackson by her husband Albert for reasons not explained until a final confrontation with the killer. Moving between ‘reports’ from the scene of the quiet murder, the novelist’s run-ins with Albert’s head-doctor, and straight narrative probing the brain of a schoolteacher sick of his wife, Slipping slips and slides from intriguing internal probing of one man’s humble and miserable life, to interruptive elements that add little to the plot’s oomph. The final account, as narrated by the killer, lunges too far into histrionics for this reader, although the prose is accomplished, and the form an inventive twist to ho-hum crime narratives.

The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresan (Open Letter)

This remarkable work, as Jonathan Lethem writes on Fresan, “brings a blast of oxygen into the room.” Several thesauruses of superlatives and superduperlatives are required to review this astonishing and breathtaking novel from an Argentinian marathon runner. A 545-page (large A5 size pages, small-ish font) maximalist masterwork (part of a trilogy) with the incredible frenetic pace and encyclopedic scope of David Foster Wallace (epigraphed on p.x), an impressive sprawling stream of low-to-high musical and literary references, essays, interpretations, and freewheeling opinions. An ur-meta novel that attempts the insane feat of encapsulating the whole world of writing and writers in a sweeping swooning style that is packed with hilarious, lyrical, thoughtful reflection and satire, and a rapturous repository for the author’s passions and obsessions. And more, and more, and more, and more. If the second and third novels are up to this calibre, Fresan’s trilogy will etch itself in the hallowed pantheon of the everlasting encyclopedic classics.

Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays by Tom McCarthy / Like Death by Guy de Maupassant (NYRB)

One of Britain’s leading intellectuals and most European of novelists, Tom McCarthy, returns with fifteen scintillating and challenging essays on topics as mouthwatering as Ulysses, Tristram Shandy, the cultural significance of dodgem jockeys, existing in the epicentre of London’s weather, and David Lynch. McCarthy writes in an engaging and ice-cool manner, beckoning the reader into his eclectic discourses before unleashing his tremendous talent for the weaving of complex theoretical concepts (of a literary nature), allusions from a swathe of avant-garde, European, and classic literature, the art and cinematic worlds, always prodding the reader into deeper thought within every stylish paragraph. One suspects that these fifteen pieces are a fraction of the omnivorious author’s preoccupations, and that McCarthy could wax on a myriad of authors, artists, and oddballs, and the results would be as stimulating as those presented here. A rewarding mental workout. In Like Death, Maupassant, a master of the fin de siècle potboiler, meanders along in an entertaning if inessential contribution to a corpus of cherubic French classics. The plot takes second place to the stylish prose, elevating a rather ho-hum tale of a painter’s unfortunate infatuation with a countess’s daughter to, according to the translator, Proustian levels.

The Arthritic Grasshopper: Collected Stories 1934-1944 by Gisele Prassinos (Wakefield Press)

A star in the Surrealist firmament at fourteen years old, Gisèle Prassinos wrote stories incorrectly labelled “automatic writing” for her first decade. These strange fables, comprised of striking surreal(ist) images, incredible non sequiturs, and sensational off-kilter dialogue, can be read as pristine examples of nonsense writing (at a Carrollian calibre), or black comic fables that presage the modern fabulists like Angela Carter or Rikki Ducornet. In these stories (better read over time, as the weirdness can lead to the skim factor), Prassinos unleashes a wellspring of unconscious(?) creative visions in equal turns risible, frightening, insane, and refreshing. A terrific unearthing from Wakefield Press.

Words from the World’s End by Joanna Walsh / The Unmapped Country: Stories & Fragments by Ann Quin (And Other Stories)

Joanna Walsh, a strenuous devotee of Christine Brooke-Rose and Flann O’Brien, writes with mischievous brilliance: with the impish humour and bookish worship of Ali Smith and Lydie Salvayre, and a humorous, lyrical style that makes her short and extremely attentive (to language) stories moreish and re-readable, this collection is a winner. Ann Quin’s incomplete novel, the titular piece published here, is one of her most remarkable prose works: a startling autobiographical exploration of a psychiatric collapse, set in an institution similar to the various she attended in her last troubled years. The remaining stories showcase her unquiet and skittish creative mind, the strongest (for me) the stories that share the bleak interiority of her first novel Berg. ‘Nude and Seascape’ is an unsettling story featuring a man burying a female corpse, and ‘A Double Room’ captures a miserable attempt at a torrid affair ruined by impotence, the latter one of Quin’s funnier pieces, and ‘Eyes That Watch Behind the Wind’ is a lyrical story set in Mexico featuring a more lucid form of abstract writing. The less successful fragments are the cut-up stories ‘Tripticks’ (later her last novel), ‘Living in the Present’ and some strange blips written for an artist boyfriend. Her prose is often abstruse to the point reading for pleasure becomes a chore, such as in ‘Ghostworm’ or ‘Never Trust a Man Who Bathes with His Fingernails’, two inscrutable pieces where the staccato sentences and minglings of narrator and character rarely produce any notable effect. Two self-portraits ‘Leaving School — XI’ and ‘One Day in the Life of a Writer’ offer a brief peep into Quin’s personality, something that remains elusive and mercurial across her strange and blackly comic writings.

Phone by Will Self (Viking)

The final implement in Self’s bludgeoning modernist trilogy, Phone is the longest at 617 pages, told as the others in one breakless paragraph, swimming in and out of two tumultuous narratives that address the impact of technology in relation to various mental afflictions. The first finds Dr. Busner, Self’s evergreen protagonist, in the throes of Alzheimer’s, placing his tackle in the breakfast buffet of a hotel. This blackly comic incident sets the tone for the hilarious, obscene, shocking and ruthless proceedings that follow, as Self unleashes the prevailing narrative: the secret affair between M16 spook Jonathan De’Ath and Colonel Gaiwan Thomas that takes us into the thick of the Iraq War. The centrepiece of the novel is an absurd masque-like farce in the heart of darkness, where Self’s talent for caustic satire is aflame, in a novel that contains his usual ruthlessly sharp observations of the madness of human life, with more misanthropic humour and burning political ire than a trillion youtube vloggers.

Sagging Shorts (Sagging Meniscus Press)

A series of shortly proportioned books released under the ‘Sagging Shorts’ umbrella in 2017. Tom McDermott’s Five Lines No Waiting is a must-have for aficionados of witty, inventive, and clever limericks, or anyone interested in first-rate comic poetry. Doug Nufer is a prolific oulipian poet and novelist producing some of finest linguistic feats in English. His latest collection The Me Theme is a startling collection of nonsense poems where each succeeding word or phrase uses the letters of its predecessor to create differing meanings. The reader is forced to pay strict attention to every letter in each line to check the constraint is being obeyed, and the most pleasurable way is to read the poems aloud and roll the lines around your tongue, lapping at Nufer’s staccato rhythms. This poetry makes sweet love to the language with an almost criminal, dangerous fervency. In Please State the Nature of Your Emergency, Aaron Anstett captures the discord and unease in modern America at a time when the world is on the brink of potentially brutal seismic change, war and chaos round the corner. These poems are strident SOSes, burning with a quiet fury, where even the humour wears a serious scowl as it lassoes and scrutinises the incoherent babel of presidents. ‘(unintelligible)’ are two Trump transcripts and the most chilling inclusion here for the creeping menace and threat amid the blather, and sit perfectly alongside the resigned and terrified tone of the work. These are frightening and despairing poems, showing that hope, that reassuring American concept, has become an impossible, meaningless word. For Anstett, the dystopian future is here: “I clamor for a black/ hole to provide us passage/ to other, better planet.” Grief Songs by Jack Foley is a collection of prose and poetry affectively channelling the author’s anguish at the loss of his wife Adelle. The poetry is beautifully simple and achingly raw, and mingles well with the personal correspondence and reflection. The depth of feeling expressed in this short book is exceptional and never awkwardly mawkish or artless—a speech or contributor poem could have been trimmed here or there, as the book tends to “collect” all the materials on Adelle towards the end—otherwise, a powerful document of a painful moment in time. Other marvels in this series are Jacob Smullyan’s artfully surreal transmissions in Errata, and Joseph D. Reich’s inventive word-paintings in Missing Magritte Murals.

The Unruly Bridal Bed & Other Grotesques / My Papa and the Maid of New Orleans & Other Grotesques by Mynona (Wakefield Press)

These short surreal tales from the founder of “Creative Indifference”, a philosophical standpoint residing at the centre of polar opposites—sort of a vantage point from which to watch and satirise life’s absurd collisions and tensions—are amusing creations steeped in their cultural and political epochs (1910s Germany), and as such the humour often fails to translate (German humour from the 1910s not being something most people would find a knee-slapping hoot, full kudos is awarded to the translator W.C. Bamberger—a Steve Katz and Beefheart scholar—for a terrific attempt). The stories are at their most charming when prancing around the parameters of taste, as in ‘The Boring Wedding Night’ or ‘The Unruly Bridal Bed’, and one suspects if born in a later era, Mynona might have shared a bed with the raunchier postmodernists.

If I Were a Suicide Bomber by Per Aage Brandt / The Brahmadells by Jóanes Nielsen (Open Letter)

If I Were a Suicide Bomber presents compact koan-poems that are original and thought-provoking. If mischievous riddler Marvin Cohen wrote shorter poetry, the results might be similarly Brandtian. This Dane writes on a plethora of topics, always with an off-beat slant, always with some peculiar twist of mind that makes each short line or stanza (most are one-stanza) engrossing and hmm-making. Poetry for the poetry-shy. Part of the Glorious Kingdom of Denmark, and located a mere 334.49km from Scotland, the Faroe Islands is an overlooked nation with a remarkable history, culture, and wife shortage. Another triumph from Open Letter, The Brahmadells is a sprawling historical novel centred round a clutch of titular devil-people, and a well-populated saga with a plethora of vivid characters, spanning the early 19thC to the late 20th. The life of the orphaned Young Tóvó is one of the prominent tales, its mirror the present-day politician Eigil, and playing out around them are the power struggles between the aristocracy and the socialist movement, and a new era of independent rule for the Faroes. An entertaining and ambitious mini-epic.

Tómas Jóhnsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson (Open Letter)

A beguiling and baffling Icelandic monolith from the peak of the postmodern era (the 1960s). The Ulysses comparisons are tantalising, as are the cover-blurb descriptors ‘Rabelaisian’ and ‘picaresque’, however, this is a work more embedded in cultural, nationalistic and folkloric notions of nation than a naughty romp of staggering formal innovation. The novel presents a series of fractured notebooks from the titular bestseller, a man with senile dementia whose writings are erratic, nonsensical, and borderline batty. Some last several pages, others spool into thirty or more, and each unleash various torrents of mental catarrh in typographically diverse forms: s-o-c patches, untabulated paragraphs, italicised stories, accounts from the narrator’s nursing home present, his past, old mythical tales (real or invented?), and huge thickets of unclassifiable and illogical prose, captivating in its nordic weirdery. A true understanding of Icelandic history, its myths, culture (Laxness is blasted on several occasions), and the sixties zeitgeist is probably required for a full understanding of this densely referential novel. The prose, translated into stylish English by poet Lytton Smith, has a majestic weave, and each notebook unleashes a spume of challenging, fascinating, hilarious, disturbing, and headscratching digressions, making the novel an essential read for anyone interested in exploratory and original writing from anywhere outside their own backyard.

King Goshawk and the Birds by Eimar O’Duffy (Dalkey Archive)

Eimar O’Duffy, one of Dalkey Archive’s finest finds this year, was a satirical novelist whose Cuanduine trilogy (this is part one), sent up the ravages of capitalism with full-toothed fervour. In this opener, we are introduced to the Dublin philosopher who summons the mythical hero Cuanduine from the heavens to help in returning the wildflowers and songbirds to the land, having been purchased by the swine King Goshawk for his Melania Trump. The naive hero’s attempts to fathom the moral crookedness and wretched nature of the human enterprise as he cosies into his borrowed body bring forth hard chuckles. O’Duffy’s cutting wit is Flann-strength and the evergreen evil of his topic makes this novel entirely contemporary, in spite of the remarkable publishing date of 1926(!). The book is also a feast of playful play, with O’Duffy parodying newspaper columns, inventing new Irish myths, poking a toe out the fourth wall, and revelling in the vicious vamp of language. A poor proofreading and unremarkable formatting job from the publisher fail to halt the hurt of this fine satire.

themystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh (Grove)

In his review, Steve Moore calls this stunning novel a “gigantic art installation”, which is the most accurate summation imaginable. You walk around this epic production with the turn of each page, pausing to reflect on the movie stills, home photographs, and puzzle the short fragments of text in their carefully honed typographical configurations. The novel is comfortable taking up room, wasting oodles of verso pages, creating mini-flipbook scenes from 1930s RKOs, and splashing its large-fonted text across the capacious white spaces, often consisting of one or two words per side. The titular ‘mystery’ is the book itself, with its recurring fragments including IM chats with a Website Greeter service, recordings with the author’s father (whose passing forms an emotional kernel of the book), and a plot of sorts featuring an amnesiac author struggling to dispose of a neighbour’s cat. The novel attempts to wed the personal (father’s passing) with the tumult of modern America (transcripts from 9/11 callers are the most harrowing inclusion here, as are the stills of the falling Twin Towers), and McIntosh’s cracked mosaic form allows for these two parallel tragedies to occupy the same space. The longer prose sections are perhaps the weakest—McIntosh triumphs more with his short lyrical fragments—although the rhythm of his sentences makes up for their unremarkable style. The intricacies of this novel are enormous, and themystery.doc should attain a fierce cult following for years to come.

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker (Heinemann)

Having milked the frenetic oddball comedy until the teats were scabbed and bleeding (The Yips & In the Approaches), Barker is back at her inventive best in this striking dystopian novel that introduces a tone of unease and mild hysteria to her wide repertoire. Mira A, a diluted Barker heroine (frequent exclamation marks still in evidence), is finding her increasing thought crimes against The System—where no thought or negative emotion is tolerated—to cause her to lose her brackets and colours. Her slow tumbling from The System (and her own narrative) is entwined somehow with Paraguayan guitar maestro Agustín Barrios, in a warp of illogic native to Barkerland, and as Mira A loses her handle on h(a)ppiness, the novel unleashes a series of beautiful typographical images of tuning forks superimposed over kaleidoscopic text, and cryptic swirls of spooky prose. Barker’s abstract approach to the dystopic, replete with metafictive flourishes, a unique use of coloured text, and a subtle parodic edge, places H(A)PPY in a league of its own as far as novels about the fear-filled future are concerned.

La Belle Roumaine by Dumitru Tspeneag / In Search of the Grail by Svetislav Basara (Dalkey Archive)

A new Tsepeneag novel is an event at our press, and Dalkey are unleashing another two following this mercurial offering. The beautiful protagonist, Ana/Hannah, whose voluptuous breasts are limned on more than five occasions, falls into the category of personnel the author is more enchanted by than the reader, and earns the attentions of Russian barfly Yegor and German intellectual Johannes, both of whom bed the heroine and learn contradictory and confusing accounts of her Romanian history. An entertaining slab of neo-noir with a light frosting of Tsepeneag’s trademark sardonic self-aware narrative slyness. The second novel in Basara’s ‘Cyclist Conspiracy’ series, In Search of the Grail is another array of scholarly found documents, presented in a seemingly erratic manner, each exceedingly erudite and historically playful. The straight-faced nature of the pastiche leads to the materials becoming too dry and scholarly to consistently amuse.

It’s Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It’s Really Funny) by Kurt Luchs (Sagging Meniscus)

Humour is a fickle tickler. One man’s Stan Laurel is another man’s Dudley Moore, as the saying has never went. This here is an offering of skits and stories from a lifelong devotee to the written laugh and serves up more consistent chuckles, snorts, lip rasps, amused smirks, appreciative nods, and stony-faced respect than Woody Allen’s most recent efforts. Luchs aims his chortle-cannon at modern life, mocking the legal accoutrements binding us to life on this unfunny planet, and serves up a salver of erudite pieces that twist the unknowable past into various absurd shapes, and make us feel at least 4% happier, like all the best humorists. Packaged with magnificently appealing endpapers and with rave quotes from the dead (Wilde, Parker, Zeppo!), this is the only humour collection your miserable relatives require this Xmas.

LATE TO THE PARTY

Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded, Vols. 1-2, by Al-Shirbini Yusuf (NYU Press)

An unusual mini-masterwork from the canon of bawdy, naughty, and perverted Arabic literature from the 18th century, featuring more pissing, shitting, romping, and violation of young boys than a hen night in Ancient Rome. The first volume contains a series of merciless excoriations of the peasantry, who were simpletons and morons worthy of contempt from the upper orders (forget about the satire “punching up” here), featuring anecdotal depictions of their escapades, their bumbling rustic ill-manners, their dervishes, their pastors, and most importantly, the slack nature of their poets’ scansion, which is comprehensively trounced as slipshod. These episodes are mostly hilarious, and slap-bang in the Rabelaisian tradition. The second volume allows me to wheel out the overused term that no one uses, “pre-postmodern”, containing a long and semi-spurious expounding of the titular ode, Pale Fire-like, although much funnier, including enough scatological nicknames and digressive tales to lead one through a section less readable for its puns and plays on Arabic grammar (a lot of which loses its chuckledom en route to the koine—translator Humphrey Davis’s efforts are to be applauded, for he wrings as much merriment as he can from the most pedantic parts). These two volumes are packed with violently meticulous endnotes, making these releases a triumph for the scholar and the new reader alike. [Note: NYU Press have also released Al-Sanhuri’s Risible Rhymes, an earlier work that performs similar poetic expounding with less amusing results].

Leg Over Leg, Vols. 1-4 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (NYU Press)

Alongside the equally splendid Brains Confounded in two volumes, Leg Over Leg (in four), is tremendous feat of translation by Humphrey Davis. This scatty encyclopedic epic, a huge proportion of which is written in rhyming prose, and constitutes lists of obscure Arabic words or phrases, is clearly something that only the most ambitious and unhinged translator would take on, and thankfully, Davis was the man. Following the adventures of a semi-autobiographical character as he widely traverses various terrains and takes on many occupations, ruminating on the anatomies and pleasures of women, the sore points of Arabic grammar, the manners of the English, and all kinds of amusing and sometimes tedious matters of deportment on the way, the book is a fairly sprawling and maddening effort, serving up hundreds of pages of ribald, repetitious, rumbustious prose, rendered in heroic English with more endnotes than anyone could possibly stand. Brains Confounded is perhaps the more hilarious and entertaining of the two, this the more innovative and layered masterwork.

Nietzsche on His Balcony by Carlos Fuentes (Dalkey Archive)

Master Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes’s last novel ends one of the most significant careers in world letters with a spectacular flourish of a whimper. Encountering the pessimist’s pessimist Friedrich Nietzsche on his balcony one evening, the two muse on the theory of the “eternal return” (infinite recurrence of the universe), and invent a story of a revolution featuring a cast of strange and beguiling characters. Among them various hopefuls for the vacant position of leader: the idealistic and doomed Saul Mendes, the hopeless Aaron Azar, and two brothers Dante and Leo, one nice one evil (no surprises in who emerges victorious). Split between droll dialogues with Fuentes and Nietzsche and the tales spun, the novel is vibrant with Fuentes’s incredible prose, observations (on philosophy, the nature of revolution, politics, fraternal and other relationships), and impeccable structure and economy. A finer career finale one couldn’t hope for.

Year of the Rat by Marc Anthony Richardson (FC2)

An ambitious and bold first novel and winner of the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Prize for innovative fiction. The blurb says “an artist returns to the dystopian city to tend to his invalid mother, only to find himself torn apart by memories and longings”, which sums up the “plot” in a novel whose commanding feature is an acrobatic, logorrhoeic, linguistically playful and poetic, occassionally symbolic, style that runs on and on across a sequence of chapters titled after the Latin names for features of Earth’s Moon. And if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the novel also incorporates 38 attributed quotations from sources as diverse as the Book of Luke, Jean Cocteau, and the Black Panthers, in addition to abstract watercolour paintings from artist Hollis Heichemer. The music and bounce of Richardson’s prose is wonderful, and takes the reader into a range of brooding and biblical scenarios, most of them too enswathed in the densely wrought language to really present a clear picture of characters or events, instead thriving on the emotions wrenched up from the poetic heft of his images and descriptions. This stylistic assault and wanton opacity leaves the reader at times yearning for something a little more concrete, although humour and slang and wordplay make welcome appearances to add levity to the proceedings, in a novel that successfully showcases the author’s gutsy talent.

Hoptime by J.F. Mamjjasond & Fafnir Finklemeyer (Sagging Meniscus)

Hoptime is what happens when sentences stretched to the end of their lexical tethers snap and collide, whipping up a brutal cyclone of flailing vowels and consonants, clauses and pauses, spaces and punctuation. The result is an irrepressible whirligig of manic comic nonsense, vibrantly warped, lovingly perverse, and heartwarmingly bonkers, in three wholly unnecessarily separate parts for your maddening pleasure. To summarise: the first section ‘Silt Waffles’ handles the spindled oligopoly in the ever-thickening pigpen of tomorrow, with extra marshmellows and pomegrante gumdrips to accommodate your wimples. The section second, ‘Unidentified Signal’, copes with your loosened trews on a winter’s clay, and somewhere in the thicket a tarantula escapes across a broad-shoed hobonanny. And finally, ‘Idylls of the Chicken’, which is there. Like me, read a little Hoptime between books, and the pleasure of words in permanent splatter will improve your mood twentyninefold.