:: Article

Mike Philbin’s Double Vision

By Steve Finbow.



Philip Pullman meets Georges Bataille? Sounds unlikely, huh? Well, so do the happenings in Mike Philbin’s novel Planet of the Owls. Let’s think again – BDSM meets Christianity. Birds Deirdre Su-Ki Marcus or Birds Dali Spirituality Millenarianism. Giant birds have taken over the world, finches rule the air while crows play tug of war with babies as a gang of magpies pull a train on a bag lady who just might be the saviour of the world. Planet of the Owls is, mostly, a dual narrative told from the viewpoint of Marcus – a feckless Oxford-based falafel seller – and the highly precocious 14-year-old Su-Ki Chin from a village just outside Beijing (you don’t meet many Chinese teenagers who can opine about Cartesian theories of the underworld). The narrative is full-pelt and fun despite the shellacking of Christian motifs and Jesus-friendly symbolism. The imagery is at times shocking and at others lifted directly from the figurative Surrealists – René Magritte, Salvador Dali, and Max Ernst. Rooms are full of giant nests, there is avian rape, birdy incest, matricide, filicide, and messianism. Pandemonium is the word I’m looking for. As the narrative checks most postmodern boxes and slips into them some overwrought spirituality, so the writing becomes undone, similes veer into cliché, and sometimes Philbin loses control of his metaphors. Yet Planet of the Owls – if one is to hurry past the regurgitated owl pellets combining Surrealism and Christianity – is an enjoyable hybrid, as if Ernst’s king of the birds Loplop had swooped down on Lara’s Oxford and used a feathery dildo to pen a fantasy Revelations in which the owl, the finch, the magpie, the crow replace war, pestilence, famine, and death. Occasionally, Philbin’s vision is as gaudy and plastic as a cheap kaleidoscope but it is one that throws up the odd original splendour.


Mike Philbin assaults his readers with brutal and sexual imagery yet assuages them with thoughts of kittens and butterflies on a summer’s day. What the reader can never do is take for granted what is going to happen next. Bukkakeworld is a satirical novel in the line of Rabelais, Swift, and De Sade; an open attack on corporations and an analysis of vocational alienation shot through with a messy, spunked-up narrative. At times, I found it difficult to follow – and swallow – but what Philbin is basically arguing here (I think) is that we all live in a version of Bukkakeworld, we all spend our days covered in ejaculate matter issued from the other people around us – and we have to take it, whether it gets stuck in our hair, smears our glasses, or tickles our uvula – we are the slaves of corporate cum-monsters, the lackeys of an uncaring and godless world, the receptacles for all the world’s glutinous gobshites. But, hold on, if we’re ever so lucky, there is a form of salvation in this porno version of 1984 and it appears in the form of a kitten – not a pussy – a kitten that leads us to our Samaritan – Marianne Buckman – a non-corporeal, time/space-shifting Beatrice and Mata Hari rolled into one. Bad jokes litter the text, as do sex and death, eros and thanatos, and the ghostly forms of William S. Burroughs, George Orwell, and Lewis Carroll. And all this fused with a cum-tsunami of corporate terrorism, reflections on the soul, and a parallel world in which the Glimpsers (sort of spectral Gestapo) can arrive at any moment to recode your DNA, reinvent time, and fold space. I’m not sure if Bukkakaworld is dystopian sci-fi or an encoded investigation of selfhood, patricide, and deicide in a world in which we are consumed by the memories of whom we nearly were. Just one quibble: “bukkake” is not the object itself but the action, and so I hope Mike Philbin makes a loud “splash” with these novels.


Steve Finbow‘s new novel Balzac of the Badlands is out October 2009.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, September 25th, 2008.