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A Nasty Piece of Work

By Richard Marshall.


A Nasty Piece Of Work by Graham Bendel has a great little cocoon of skull-and-thigh bone-in–a-bag takeaway-style doodle on the cover done by Clive Barker of Hellraiser fame and a story inside that cover that reeks of caustic, several-hells-away-from-Grub-Street satirical bile that unloads in a rapid short burst of unfriendly fire over 169 pages. It’s a one-swallow book ie read it all at one gulp and then go play with your dolls.

It’s a bit like early Will Self in its nastiness, but is better because it hasn’t Self’s self regard and boring length. With Self there’s always the suspicion that he’s got a good short idea and is spinning it out about three hundred odd pages too far. Bendel has the self-discipline to keep to the edge of the story and not do the padding, the pretention or the thesaurus trawl that ruins most of Self’s oeuvre. It’s better than American Psycho as well because there the author’s infatuation with the glamour and money helped with the humour but again made it feel too long, too predictable and, ultimately, complacent. (Of course, Self and Ellis are still better than a hell of a lot of stuff that gets pushed out by an increasingly corporate and dull publishing era, so Bendel is scoring pretty well here. This is not faint praise.)

Bendel goes to the heart of the psycho narrative by keeping the stupidity of plot brilliantly taut and twisted. It’s got enough wire in it to cut the reader who tries to second-guess where it’s going — although I wasn’t as shocked as perhaps I needed to be by the final denouement — but it also manages to be both terrifically funny in parts as well as very scary.

The satire’s target is, I guess, the pretentions of the art world blown aloft by the hardcore megalomania of the current high-fashion high-concept artist now hopefully fizzling out in the credit crunch — that posh-bred empire of idiocy that counts the likes of star fucker Sam Taylor-Wood amongst its number. In this then it wanders into the territory of some of Stewart Home’s satires. But the tone is different, its references don’t result in Home’s garishly brilliant and immoderately formal pastiches rendered as Richard Prince joke diagrams but instead insinuate a pared-back version of a middlebrow shocker imagined by an insane security guard avoiding discretion by mistake.

The hilarious/horrific plot is as convoluted and mad as you could wish. The lines are delivered with the confident panache of a man who has no need of butter on his toast. There are some Lynch-like moments of pure joy that leaves the reader and the central character’s voice overlapping in a synchronicity that is alarming and poetic: when a deadly character uses the simile “the rain brings spiders into people’s houses” the character hearing the line responds with, “OK. Urich thought the last bit to be kind of scary, but felt a kind of honesty filter through the electronic airwaves into his ear”. Throughout the tale there’s a lunatic extremism that judges the language being used by its ability to frighten. Consequently Bendel is very scary at times.

Fear happens again and again in the book and it wouldn’t be any good summarising the plot because that would both spoil a lot of the fun of reading it as well as rinse away the energy of the style that contributes to the weirdness of the effect. There’s a troubled (and very disturbing) psycho who can be momentarily stopped by saying “Terrance Rattigan” and who has written what sounds like an absolutely brilliant idea for a children’s book called “Stench of Bear”: “It was a fairytale … violent and disgusting, and involved the antics of a naïve (and mute) bear who became involved with witchcraft”. If Bendel doesn’t write this, then Steve Aylett probably will. Has. Whatever.

It’s a very English-sounding voice telling the story (I haven’t a clue if Bendel is English but he sure sounds like it here — a kind of Pete Walker revisiting his Die Screaming Marianne, House Of Whipcord, Frightmare, House Of Mortal Sin and The Comeback stuff with Susan George as Cynthia and, weirdly, the great Sheila Keith as all the psycho males.) It’s a refreshingly uncool and unfiltered retro that seems a genuine English surrealist doing the usual Kafka meets Caged Heat thang with glee and commitment. The pared down chapters are short and help the pace rush on like a good piece of hoodlum TV or trash film. Nothing gets bogged down in irrelevant description, symbol, the weather or anything. Only stuff that builds up tension and surprise and wicked humour is included.

Oh, and did I mention unspeakably nasty horror? There’s that as well, and so in this respect the Lynch comparison (though Lynch is doing it in film and paint of course) is apposite. Just like with Twin Peaks you can bathe in the verbal and visual delights but there’s always the unalloyed and unavoidable horror lurking inside all of that; just so with Bendel. You enjoy the quick-paced, energetic plot-twisting narrative and the hapless central character’s dilemmas whilst at the same time having to confront, along with the same character, truly nasty demons. The title’s honest. A little gem — grimy, sleazy and well-packaged too by Fortune Teller Press.

Richard Marshall (centre) is former editor of 3:AM and appeared in its fifth anniversary anthology The Edgier Waters (2006). A story of his features in the forthcoming Love Hotel City (Future Fiction). He lives in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, March 6th, 2009.