The Currency of Paper by Alex Kovacs

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The Currency of Paper by Alex Kovacs

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Witty, whimsical, satirical and a decidedly better read than I was expecting. It's challenging, but worth the effort. Alex Kovacs popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 318 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
ISBN: 978-1564788573

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Maximilian Sacheverell Hollingsworth was - as the name might suggest - of aristocratic birth, but had broken off all contact with his family and in consequence found himself labouring for forty hours a week in a printing works in Dagenham. He came upon the idea of planning out his entire life and this he did in the course of a single afternoon whilst enjoying a little illicit sick leave in a pub in Bloomsbury. He would first become a counterfeiter - on a massive scale - and then a sculptor, filmmaker, collector of artefacts, sound artist and mystic. Circumstances would also turn him into a recluse, except on certain well-ordered occasions, most of which would occur - somewhat to his initial surprise - later in his life.

Strikingly original satire it says on the back of the book. I'd have to agree with that - I've certainly never read anything quite like it, in the best possible way. Alex Kovacs slides a satirical scalpel into the way that art and capitalism operate to favour some forms over others. We watch Maximilian construct large scale art works in almost derelict warehouses, perpetrate acts of industrial anti-sabotage (how else to describe interfering in the way a company works to improve the operation - but without their knowledge) and make a speech to a small audience in an abandoned ballroom with the sole intention of telling them that they shouldn't have wasted their time in listening to him. I've picked three examples at random from a book packed with fifty years of such actions, each of which could be described as more surreal than the last.

Ah, yes, surreal. That word. I don't read surreal. It puts me in mind of Will Self at his worst, of style over substance and a writer who is indulging his whims over the experience of his readers. Initially I was determined not to read the book, but my arm was twisted, first of all with comparisons to B S Johnson and Georges Perec and when they failed with a promise that I wouldn't be disappointed. I gave it a go and by the time that I was part way down the first page I was reassured. The quality of the writing is enviable - he felt the slowness of the afternoon unwinding down the length of his spine - but I was still worried about that S word.

Then as I read I realised something. It didn't seem surreal to me - I didn't feel that almost dreamlike quality which I associate with surrealism. I was more conscious of wondering if Kovacs had rumbled me, spotted a tear in the fabric, put a finger in and pulled. It's the way he takes our foibles and extends them, but not quite so far that the elastic snaps. There is Maximilian in all of us. Just see where you could go.

You won't like Maximilian. He's not a character you can warm to, but you will love the London he inhabits. You'll walk it, cycle it and ride its buses for over half a century: it makes a brilliant backdrop to a book I really wasn't expecting to enjoy anywhere near as much as I did. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

The closest we've come recently to surreal is Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human. It's not as good as The Currency of Paper.

Bookinterviews.jpg Alex Kovacs was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Buy The Currency of Paper by Alex Kovacs at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Currency of Paper by Alex Kovacs at


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