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
53 projected into (a) 3D matrix
79 they might not it up the line
112 t’see you(r)
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)
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. 🙂