Digging up Donald
(Immanion Press, £17.99, 338 pages, signed hardback, published
Imagine for a second that you're watching Coronation Street.
Even if you can't stand the programme, put yourself on that sofa, for
this particular episode is different. Imagine, if you will, an episode
written by Spike Milligan and HP Lovecraft, and once you acknowledge
that you've grasped how to understand the people that inhabit this novel.
Pirie has crafted a wonderfully funny tale, that also contains a fair
amount of genuinely creepy moments, and what is even more remarkable
about this book is the fact it is the author's first--I just hope he
has more in the works!
Marrying humour with horror invariably means the story becomes a spoof,
but how can you spoof a tale that is so original, so undeniably unique?
Granted, Pirie draws on many sources in writing this book--including
the partnership of Ricardo Montalban and Hervé Villechaize from
Fantasy Island transposed to the demonically-possessed Reverend
and his verger, Mr Dodds-- but despite Spike, Lovecraft, Coronation
Street and the above, I cannot think of anything in print remotely
similar. The closest would probably be the works of Robert Rankin, but
Pirie's fantasies just eclipse the weirdest that Rankin can imagine.
And this, paradoxically, could be its downfall--the book could be too
damn weird! This is an apocalyptic tale where only a boy and his family
stand before the Reverend and the forces of darkness from ruling the
world, with the help of their dead relatives not to mention just about
every other corpse in the graveyard.
A story that will also contain enough double-entendre to make even
the late great Frankie Howerd titter-so, especially when the Mother
and daughter are discussing the apparent lack of granddchildren:
The Mother sighed. 'Does the train arrive in Nuneaton before Brian
becomes excitable?' she said. Maureen winced. 'Sometimes it doesn't
even leave the platform at Waterloo, Mother.'
For me, that's a great line, and Stephen Pirie shows a familiar style
of wordplay throughout the book. The author bio describes him as a 'playful
forty-two year-old' and for once, you actually believe an author's bio.
This is a journey where the boy, Robert, has the task of finding the
dearly-departed family members, with the help of Donald (who is not
what you expect, trust me); we'll discover what Limbo is really like,
and what exactly lies at Death's Door. These sequences in hell display
that Pirie is adept at writing horror, aping Dante's La Divine Comedie
though incorporating a couple of modern designs, such as a pub.
John Cleese famously remarked that Monty Python would never work outside
of the UK... I would say the same about Pirie's humour: it is intrinsically
English, and northern English at that. Despite it being set within the
city of Mudcaster, you just know it's a thinly disguised Manchester.
Of course, Cleese was proved wrong--but would an average American reader
Digging up Donald is a novel that has to be read by anyone with
even the faintest interest in the absurd or the fantastic, and Stephen
Pirie is a name to keep an eye on.
Well recommended, chuck.