A Guest Review by Cryselle
Review Summary: A poorly-written descent into the bizarre and revolting; best avoided.
Meet WILLIAM (WAN.W) WANDSWORTH, portrait painter extraordinaire, whose diverse backgrounds for his carefully selected subjects (and to their cost) vary from a converted country barn, a startlingly ‘reinvented’ and ‘mechanised’ chrome and mirrored 14th century Italian castle, a refurbished Victorian candle factory and last but not quite least, an eerie cemetery where clandestine midnight assignations could and do go horribly wrong. Added to this bizarre palette is a vibrant clashing of cocks, personalities and multi talents when the larger-than-life artist crosses paintbrushes with the likes of ruthless interior designer HARRY HUMPHRIES and boy wonder pop idol TOMMY TYLER. Aiding and abetting WILLIAM in his determination to become ‘a legend in his own time’ is his hand-picked coterie comprising the sinister dwarf duo, PAUL and NELSON, the olfactory major domo SKIDS along with his bête noir, the rapacious RUFUS, plus the dark, dubious PRINCE ALBERT. An innocent victim caught up within the artist’s ruthless ambitions is the long-suffering MIC SANDFORD whose infatuation with the aforesaid HARRY sees situations ranging from loss of body parts and even a soul or two.
Prepare for a fast, twisted rollercoaster ride – part scenic and part terrifying – of jealousies, perversions and violent revenge but always within the presence of the darkest of humour. As with WILLIAM’S nemesis PAUL GAUGUIN – the original PAUL.GO – this reincarnation is an acquired taste; for some a feast of unsavoury delights and for others a banquet of despair.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions: I was moved to read this book because of some misguided willingness to try an author unknown to me from a press I didn’t recognize. Further checking showed books from Lethe Press and Silver Publishing under Robin Anderson’s name, although it may not be the same person, and by the time I researched Nazca Plains, it was too late; I was committed to finish it. The blurb, seen in depth a second time, had all the clues to send me running; I plead not considering that bizarro fiction might be submitted for review here. Learn from my error.
The names in caps is a convention from query letters to agents; the blurb might have been ganked from such a letter, so I read on. The first fifty pages lull one into complacency: the story has a prologue that reads like a horror novel, and then backs up three years. The body of the story begins innocuously enough with a fey and talented interior decorator acquiring clients, discussing same with his clique of employees and hangers-on, and all of them drinking like fish. The dialog is very twee and self-congratulatory, as Harry and all think he’s the best thing to hit the inside of a house since paint was invented. Once Harry has a falling out with potential client William Wandsworth, returning his advance, the story descends into mass reshuffling of who sleeps with whom, an occasional who rapes what, and general acquisition of revenge in varied and vile ways. Wandsworth devotes the rest of the book to making sure none of the rest of the cast of thousands, aside from his loathsome sidekicks, is happy.
The plot is tissue thin and exists primarily to organize the assortment of despicable tricks and occasional bodily harm into a timeline. Wandsworth’s overblown sense of entitlement suggests he compare himself to Paul Gauguin, something not at all supported by the text aside from the peculiar method of signing paintings. He believes that it’s his right to spend years creating torment for everyone, something he’s willing to devote most of his time and fortune doing. There are aspects of the horror originally promised in the prologue, but they don’t maintain the promise and devolve into the merely horrible and somewhat ludicrous. The promised dark humor comes across as scatological: humor may be subjective but this created zero chuckles.
Characterization is slightly deeper; a few characters’ voices stand out, but most fall into the general morass of “those to be tormented.” The distinction is further blurred by a plethora of names beginning with “H” but keeping them sorted out was actually a moot point: I detested most of them. One or two, like Mic, were only unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with Wandsworth and his minions, and those I felt sorry for. Some of the characters do pair off into long-term couples, which unfortunately only makes them into bigger targets.
Style, sigh. Words do not mean what this writer thinks they do. An “olfactory major domo” turned out to be only odiferous; there are dozens of examples. Characters snigger, smirk, laugh, and camp their sentences rather than speak. By the time they finish “camping” their lines, it takes 2-3 pages to impart one tidbit of information. My copy was an ARC and may not have had a final currying, but extra words, typos, and absent commas did not improve the reading experience.
If the point of bizarro literature is to shock, it did. I waded through the musical beds, incest, shit-flinging, ear-severing and all, after another good long look at the blurb made me decide that I really had been warned, though I had not realized it at the time. “A feast of unsavoury delights” covers a lot of territory. This story, in any “I have not made promises to finish it unless something horrible and unwarned for crops up” scenario was a DNF even before page 84. That’s where the bestiality scene caused me to part ways with my lunch. The author may be satisfied that his work here is done.
Readers of Carlton Mellick III may possibly find something to like here; the rest of us should be reading something else.