:: Article

Everyday He Writes the Book

By Andrew Fleming.

 

everydaylee.jpg

 

Everyday, Lee Rourke’s first story collection, is populated entirely by avatars of boredom and morbidity. The 20-odd pieces found here pound away with short but unwavering blows, addressing from every possible angle what Rourke sees as the paralysis of late Modern society. Failure is inbuilt in Everyday; Rourke’s writing is just as loaded with desperate futility as the office drones and lovelorn loners found throughout. The piece “John Barleycorn”, for example, deliberately leaves unexploited the rich allusive potential of its titular protagonist; he is abandoned to boozy thoughts in a miserable Wetherspoons, and the fragment dies away. Described in this way, the book may appear desperately grim, which it is, yet Everyday is also very funny. In celebrating the banal, Everyday undercuts the potential for overwrought nihilism. Big lessons are always replaced by little failures: “Anon Takes a Lunch Break” documents an impotent office worker spurned by pigeons; “The Wolf” a fumbled office romance.

Moreover, this is a book that lays all its cards on the table. Everyday’s indebtedness to a roll-call of the avant-garde is abundantly clear; Stewart Home, Maurice Blanchot and Blaise Cendrars are referenced in the acknowledgements alone. Their influence is clear in the book’s prose, which is almost painfully spare; anything in the text that could be mistaken for ‘literary’ has been meticulously scraped away. Rourke unapologetically reaches into the Modernist bag of gestural tricks, but while in other hands such an approach could appear gimmicky, his characters are unrepentantly self-reflexive: “there’s no fancy metaphor on these pages. This is face value. Surface movement,” rails yet another miserable cipher. That’s certainly true, and its acknowledgement offers relief from the book’s occasionally pretentious leanings; Everyday ultimately pretends to nothing.

That said, the near Zen-like obsessiveness with which Everyday catalogues the mundane and the pointless occasionally threatens to overwhelm; the sheer volume of failed redemptions and missed opportunities is almost too much to absorb. This too, is surely deliberate; for Everyday is very much a novel of London, in thrall to a monolithic, uncompromising vision of the capital. The city is meticulously observed. Within the overarching framework of the city, some fragments work better than others. “Innit”, for example, is a jaundiced take on yoof culture that veers close to Daily Mail territory, surely not the author’s intention. Elsewhere, the skewering of a Hoxton twat in “Tale of an Idiot” is quite a boring target for 2008. That said, the volume and brevity of Rourke’s fragments ultimately works to the collection’s advantage; if one piece fails to hit its target, another textual attack will follow up soon after to finish the job. The considerable power of pieces like “On the Bank”, for example, is only enhanced by the concision of its five pages.

2343375028_f62143870c.jpg

 

Two of Everyday’s key preoccupations, London and avant-garde literary theory, find a confluence in the author’s explorations of “psychogeography”. Rourke’s posture here is typically careful. He rejects the possibilities of the term as popularly used by the likes of Will Self or Peter Ackroyd, in which innocuous topographies are used to ground all sorts of fanciful historical and cultural conjectures; instead the discipline’s Situationist roots are thoroughly reconsidered. Everyday certainly occupies psychogeographic and textual space to strategic ends, but not for overtly political or ‘literary’ purposes; indeed, the territory is not burdened with meaning at all. Instead, the spaces in both text and city are filled up primarily with pigeons, as blank and directionless as the author’s human subjects. From Soho to the capital’s dismal satellites in the Home Counties, London provides the inescapable context for disappointment.

fm.jpg
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrew Fleming
is a recent graduate. He lives and works in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, April 7th, 2008.