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Gore Opera

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Alan Kelly, Let Me Die A Woman, Pulp Press 2010

My favourite joke goes something like this: A man walks into a fish and chip shop and says, “May I have a steak and kidley pie, please?” And the chip-shop owner says, “Sorry?” And the man replies, “May I have a steak and kidley pie, please?” And the chip-shop owner says, “Don’t you mean steak and kidney pie?” And the man replies, “I said that, diddle I?” My second favourite joke: Why are scarecrows so good at what they do? Answer: They are outstanding in their field. What has this to do with a book review? I hear you shout. Well, Alan Kelly’s debut novel Let Me Die A Woman is linguistically deft, sick, humorous, and gives a kick up the ass to the genre of contemporary horror writing. Imagine Bret Easton Ellis as the bastard offspring of H.P Lovecraft or Stewart Home raised on a diet of Ginī Piggu movies and you’ll get somewhere close to the feel of this very enjoyable book.

Bunny Flask is out for revenge, out for bloody revenge and nothing will stop her, not malformed dolls, not psychopathic scarecrows, not reanimated bodies that make Frankenstein’s monster look like Johnny Depp; definitely not Alice Fiend (aka Jessica Spark). With a little help from her friend Kiffany Boston-Gifford and the quite fanciable Sunglasses Steve, Bunny is determined to get Mick Jones back for sacking her from the horror magazine Bloody Rag. On top of that, she is going to close down The Doll House and stop the appearance of the apocalyptic Psyche and The Sisters. If this were just a pure gore opera it would be a negligible read, an evening spent with a wry smile on one’s face, forgotten the next day; but Kelly has a lot to say about families, relationships, the shifting sands of gender and sexuality, and about the horror genre the novel so cleverly exploits. This is pulp fiction at its pulpist and cultist.

A fusion of horror, slasher, sci-fi, cyperpunk, erotica, romance, Let Me Die A Woman nods its head to its literary influences – H.P. Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, Jim Thompson, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Clive Barker; its filmic predecessors – Hammer Horror, Noir, Ed Wood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deliverance, Nikita, and its musical ones – Snowy White, Bauhaus, Courtney Love, Siouxsie Sioux. But the novel wears these influences lightly and with humour – if there’s one thing this novel is it’s irreverent. Kelly has some great similes: “There was a noise like burning kittens coming from beneath the creature’s skin…” And some wonderful chapter titles, my favourites being: “Fuck Me Gently With a Chainsaw” and “Corpse Bitch”.

If you like your horror not as cutesy as Gaiman and a tad shorter than King or Straub; if you like to smile through lashings of viscera; if you prefer your heroes to be transexuals battling reanimated bodies killed by demented hegemonic scarecrows; if you prefer to read something that will stretch your imagination rather than stroke it condescendingly; and if you prefer dark surrealism to beige reality, then a night in with Alan Kelly’s Let Me Die A Woman would be right up your blood-spattered alley. Alan Kelly is the Wizard of ODD. Let me die a fan.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Steve Finbow‘s book on the cultural history of necrophilia should be out some time this year along with a collection of short stories; a critical biography of Allen Ginsberg is due in 2011; and those novels just keep piling up.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 29th, 2010.