Simian Substitute Site for February 2009: Precious Monkey Jewellery
SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1990

My Godawful Life

Godawful cover What's that you say? Updates have been a little sparse here since the beginning of the month? Well, I'm sorry about that. It's probably got something to do with how I FRACTURED BOTH MY BASTARD ELBOWS last week. Went arse over tit on the iced-up approach to a station, since you ask. (There was a lot of it about in the UK at the beginning of February 2009, to the extent that this BBC News report looks like snuff porn to me right now.)

Anyway, you'll be pleased to hear that they were both minor fractures: I came out of the sling today, and I'm currently just sitting at home feeling a little bit sorry for myself. And while I'm in this situation, I can finally see the point of those miserable confessional memoirs that the bookshops are full of. You may have ugly bruises and achy forearms, but at least you can take comfort in knowing you're not being serially raped by all the members of your family. All I need to do is find a book whose opening paragraph makes me feel better about myself, and I'll be on the road to full recovery in no time.

I was born, by breech birth, in a run-down shack, after having been choked on the umbilical cord for half an hour, and was promptly dropped on the floor by the doctor, and when he went to pick me up inadvertently kicked across the room. It was to set the tone for the rest of my life.

Yeah, this could work.

As Sunny McCreary suggests in the opening paragraph of his autobiography My Godawful Life, his life has carried on much the same way as it started. Born to a paraplegic prostitute and a man who enjoyed hammering nails into the heads of children, an early collection of traumas left him with a pathological fear of doors and a hatred of pigeons. After a childhood where he was passed between Irish foster parents, a convent of sadistic nuns and a platoon of child soldiers, and an adolescence spent sucking off truck drivers for money, his adult life has seen him stumbling from one job to another with varying degrees of failure. His first attempt at cosmetic surgery left him with a baboon's arse instead of a face: his second was, if anything, even less successful.

Do I need to say this? Judging from the one duff review on Amazon, I guess I do. So: My Godawful Life is a parody of the misery memoirs that have been cluttering up the bookshelves for some time now. Fair play to the shelf-stacking genius at Borders on Oxford Street who's been racking this book up alongside the Dave Pelzers and Constance Briscoes that it takes the piss out of. Anyone who thinks this is the real thing after reading the back cover - a summary of the most ridiculous plot points, a quote from Schadenfreude Monthly, and the categorisation as 'Humour' - deserves all they get, frankly.

It's a sad indictment on our society that after reading a few pages of My Godawful Life, you find yourself flicking back to the small print on the copyright page to see who really wrote this. And it turns out it's the work of cult internet humourist Michael Kelly. He's already been in print once - a self-published collection of stories about Roy Orbison being wrapped in clingfilm - but this has the full weight of the Pan Macmillan publishing empire behind it.

[This should, theoretically, be the point where I give you a link to Kelly's website. However, at the time of writing there's a big 403 error message where it used to be. A bit of research via Google cache suggests that earlier this year, the site was taken down during a legal tussle with alleged plagiarist and tosser Kevin Leam. Somehow, that seems more tragic to me than anything that happens to Sunny McCreary. Anyway, thanks to The Internet Archive it's still possible to look at the January 2008 version of Kelly's homepage, or just jump straight to his greatest hit: Ulli's Roy Orbison In Cling-film Site.]

That digression aside, let's get back to the book in question. From the website, it's obvious that Kelly's strengths are in writing short pieces, and if there's a failing in My Godawful Life it's that it doesn't quite hang together as a novel. It has to be episodic, because Kelly wants to cram in parodies of as many of the misery lit classics as he can, from the horrors of an Irish upbringing ("my foster-mother had been forced to resort to the shameful expedient of earning a living thinking up new surcharges for Ryanair") to the adopted child who suffers from a combination of autism and Tourette's. ("The neighbour's dog didn't fucking bark in the night. It was probably sucking its own cock.") He frequently blows major plot developments well in advance, in the text or the chapter headings, because he doesn't really care about the narrative - it's all about the jokes.

The result turns out to be the proverbial curate's egg. There are two lengthy passages where Sunny gets dragged into joining a large group - first a religious cult, then a more aggressively totalitarian outfit. In both cases, the causes espoused by each group mutate into a libertarian rant about how The Man keeps stopping us from doing anything that might be fun. Kelly may have a point with this - and towards the end of the book he makes a convincing case that it's a natural human instinct to tyrannise, whatever your politics - but his specific targets are a little too Daily Mail in their nature, and feel like an overwrought attempt at Capital S Satire.

When he's not trying too hard, the book's a lot funnier. And I certainly don't mean 'not trying too hard' in terms of joke density, because the best bits of My Godawful Life are absolutely crammed with them. The chapter concerning Sunny's inevitably doomed relationship with his pet dog Skip is a magnificent short story in its own right, tightly constructed so as to play with the reader's expectations as much as possible. And there are plenty of comic riffs throughout the book to enjoy, from the relentless one-upmanship of his fellow sufferer Gerald ("I was sexually abused by my own Siamese twin") to the collection of Other Books You May Enjoy in the back pages (Daddy, Pots! A Memoir Of Incest And Dyslexia). But there's a sneaky bonus right at the end: an appendix which completely ditches the jokes and viciously skewers the people Kelly despises the most - the audience that's turned Being Serially Raped By All The Members Of My Family into a popular literary genre.

My Godawful Life may have its flaws, and it's not going to make you feel better about yourself in the same way as the books it's parodying. But it had me giggling uncontrollably while I was sitting in a hospital lobby waiting for my elbows to be x-rayed, and you probably can't hope for better than that.

Comments

Suzanne Vega Fanclub

Hope this helps http://www.injurylawyers4u.co.uk/Tracker/track.php?ref=google&gclid=CPrv4tqF2JgCFUEt3godLlP-dw

SpankTM

I appreciate the sentiment, Suze, but the last thing I need right now is an out-of-work actor recreating my accident during the ad breaks in Countdown.

SpankTM

Oh, this is lovely. http://leamfan.blogspot.com/

(Meanwhile, Michael Kelly's website has grudgingly moved over to http://michaelkelly.artofeurope.com/ owing to his ongoing problems with Orange.)

Dennis

Michael's PoM has now found a temporary home:

http://michaelkelly.artofeurope.com

Hope this helps!

SpankTM

Jinx!

Dennis

Serendipity, I call it ...

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