Book Review: Electric Pastyland by Alan Kent

Posted: May 18, 2012 by Peter J in book review, fiction, novel review
Tags: , , ,

Electric Pastyland - guitar + pasty

Bit whisht, Charlie Curnow !

Fer wun thing, there ent no chapters in un ! Bit ard readin ubm all’n wun go. . .

What there is a lot of, is cussin’ – Charlie Curnow must be the cussinest Cambornian around (I’ve met a few, and they ain’t as cussy as that, even from Troon way…). The count of f+++s and c+++s per page must be pretty high – there’s little Celtic language in here but a great deal of Anglo-Saxon. The sleaze factor too is pretty high – a strip club and pron factory is a central feature – now guzzon with ee Alan ! – making for unentertaining and, fortunately, not even remotely erotic reading. I don’t much like the idea of all that, although it can be recalled that, topically, at the time Electric Pastyland (EP) was published in the mid-2000s, there was a furore over prospective lap-dancing clubs’ licensing in various Cornish locations. Whereas EP’s predecessor Proper Job Charlie Curnow (PJCC) packed some politics punchily well-aimed, I thought, EP is flabbily amoral. Instead of PJCC’s gritty jabs, EP indulges in set-piece lectures (mostly ridiculing nationalism, or quangoism) which bore. Also, if, like me, you happen not to give a toss about Jimi Hendrix (and I think that’s not too great a crime, in artistic or any other sense), you’ll get pretty fed up of Jimi before you’re very far through the story – “Jimi woz ere” is daubed liberally if not literally through much of the text. Despite this, there’s not a very detailed staging of Charlie or Jimi’s actual music in the story, which is a pity. I’m not asking for scores or tonic sol-fa lyric sheets but we could’ve been given a bit of guitar tabs or something in there to make it seem ‘real’ like. There is a tour involved (I hope that’s not a spoiler) but, unless you’re really rooting for Charlie and pals, the account of it is too humdrum to interest. And see the cover: paired to a guitar neck’s a pasty – a vertically integrated pre-VAT pasty merchant also features – I’d have dearly liked to see the plot wind in with the crimping and the cutting, but, alas, Alan decreed that that detail, too, twas not to be . . .

Charlie Curnow before was the underdog, now he’s pretty much jibbed onto a media studies course as a cynical spectator, even profiteer, and, I suspect, lost most readers’ sympathy.

Onto the text style: I noticed a bit of verbal repetition or ‘echoing’ – if you could electronically search the text for the expressions “doubt, self loathing” and “poor old” I think you’d find a few occurrences cropping up close to each other: a sign of writing fatigue and also of too light an editorial hand. And assuming that the reader knows no Polish, without Google Translate the interspersed Polish SMS messages are unenlightening. Even if you do use Google Translate (or Babelfish, or asking a Pole, or whatever spoddish means you happen to use) they still don’t add much to the text – though I s’pose it was a nice idea. Another nice idea was the attempt at introducing action into genuine Cornish locales, although, except for the very first pages – which are promisingly gripping – these sequences just don’t gel realistically.

I enjoyed PJCC and I’m struggling to find EP’s good points: the humour of PJCC is there, buried slightly under the Jimiography, smut and spouting. The KLF, for example, was an inspired choice of name for an insurgency (the main target of their wrath features also in Alan Kent’s poetry and film work). EP does also feel right in the detail of place and, to some extent, of people  – with consistent, tho’ possibly inaccessible, dialect – it’s not un-authentic. Its plot, by failing to mesh believability with interest, lets it down. EP is not awful, but its trying to fill a quart pot with PJCC’s pint of bitter, a few years on, did not work very well – it’s a disappointment. At least it was for me, although reviewers on Amazon seemed well pleased with it – other readers’ views and comments are welcome here – come’zon ! 🙂

So, in sum, I’ve got to conclude that a bigger change in plot would’ve led to an improved novel – let’s hope the Cult of Relics is that.

For the interest of them that are interested in such things 🙂 . . .

Spelling mistakes which I found – the constant use of vernacular spelling and grammar is impressive (and consistently applied) and, when you get used to it, fairly easy to read – are listed below:

12 the placed looked

22 Pengegen

53 projected into (a) 3D matrix

56 creatu(r)es

63 sustain(a)ble

79 they might not it up the line

112 t’see you(r)

119 Stanhop(e)

126 Pelmore (K Pelmear?)

127 talkin’ our(t) yer

134 wuz know(n) these days

135 sl(e)ight of hand  (sic?)

203 ‘ee had had as homes

226 return to(o) like

233 (t)hen they’re ready

235 obviously the Lukas

236 had all be(en)

279 Busveal

Errors of omission are in brackets – apparent ee-aws are highlighted in bold/italics. Page numbers are from the Ryelands 2007 edition. My impression: proof-reading this must’ve been a challenge, given the use of vernacular throughout (and how do they proof-read that sort of dialect stuff anyway ? Russell Hoban said that after writing Riddley Walker, he had to re-learn how to spell …). I wonder how many iterations it took to publication. Not a terrible extent of typo errors – not bad – not perfect – acceptable. 🙂

  1. infida says:

    To my cost I discovered that writing in dialect is a tricky task to accomplish. Too much dialect and the reader gets so confused that they can’t follow the story with ease and then, woe of woes, they lose interest in reading the book.

    However, should I attempt another compilation of plots i.e. story, I think I’ve discovered a good proof reader! 🙂

    I must admit your review does not tempt me to read this book but this might be down to the fact that the subject matter appears to be somewhat out of my league probably due to (a) age and (b) a general distaste of most contemporary and not quite so contemporary popular music in general. I love the title and the book cover if that is any recommenation though!

    As regards book reviews they need to be taken with a large pinch of salt in my experience if you are not a ‘big league’ author.. Even though I had reviews ranging, geographically, from as far away as America to almost my own West Cornwall back door I did know, or was known to, most of the people who took the time and trouble to publish their thoughts. It is, therefore, rather lowering to realise that the ‘wow’ factor might be based more on knowledge of who wrote the book rather than the book itself.

    You never know, just to broaden my literary horizons, I might be tempted to have a go at this book. The Anglo-Saxon swear words will not bother me . . . for my sins it’s the music references I shall find the more daunting!

    • Pete says:

      Good points all – thank you for those insights Infida.

    • Pete says:

      Oops I was a bit hasty there. You mentioned that you liked the title “Electric Pastyland” – I forgot to say that while reading EP I discovered – for, lo, I aren’t really into 60s music either, tho’ respect them that dig it – anyhooo, that Jimi Hendrix released an album called “Electric Ladyland” in ’68. Hence, via also a discursion into a Hendrix cover of Hen Wlad Fy Nadhau/Land of My Fathers, the title of the EP, sorry, I mean of EP !

      Not sure what the cover references… no wait got un (twas getting me mezd) … the Live Aid logo ? I have read several, probably condescending, remarks by English authors (e.g. Lawrence, Vulliamy) equating Cornish people with Africans (by no means an insult in itself) but is our Alan Kent drawing parallels between Grenv…Trelawny estate and ’80s Ethiopia ?!?

      Anyway, tis a pretty fun book, Jimi lets Charlie get some amusing words in edgeways I promise – if you find time to get around to it while assembling something, even in dialect, which any discerning reader will surely be pleased to proof-read. 🙂

  2. Lee says:

    Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this as much as the first volume Pete. I wonder what I’ll make of it….

    As an aside: for a brief period nearly twenty years ago I did actually play guitar in a Hendrix covers band in Cornwall….

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