Dead Funny by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains (editors)
|Dead Funny by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains (editors)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A surprisingly competent portmanteau of chilling writing, taking bright sparks out the comedy limelight and putting them – and us – into a much darker environment.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: October 2014|
|Publisher: Salt Publishing|
In a world of nightmares, disasters, death and ignominy there is a book called Dead Funny. Invented purely to satisfy the remit built into its title, it collects some horror stories written by comedians, both household names and those more up-and-coming. Like all horror books it comes out at the time of year best suited for horror – Halloween, when we read with the darkest corners in our rooms, with the longest evenings outside – but is only suited for Halloween because it is a worthless, hellish piece of dross. It never excites, it is the most self-serving vanity project, and the only funny thing about it is that some idiot ever decided it was worth publishing. Now I know you know, courtesy of those bright shiny stars alongside this review, that this volume, Dead Funny, is not that Dead Funny. But just bear in mind the horror story this could have been, if these pages were not so surprisingly adept at taking those said nightmares, disasters, deaths and ignominy and presenting them to us so competently.
We start with Reece Shearsmith and his story of brotherly help and revenge, which unfortunately comes with an annoyingly twisty final sentence. Sara Pascoe follows horror story form with a tale of attack by spider. Twice-time novelist Mitch Benn gives us a further dark revenge work, with a great clarity and narrative drive that still means the book has ignored the latter half of its title as regards its contents, but has justified its existence very quickly. Nobody will be laughing at Al Murray's short work either, for it is surprisingly literate and knowledgeable, and darkly impressive. Stewart Lee clearly doesn't have the best Christmas, or even a particularly good year, in his effort, one of only two to have appeared before elsewhere, although seemingly at the behest of one of our editors. Said editor, Robin Ince, does seem to go for the comedic with his character piece surrounding what may or may not be a zombie, or may just be a very problematic office worker. Same thing, then; later on his cohort Neil Edmond will similarly use his character to suggest the nightmarish results of work.
Matthew Holness seems to be the only person here to take on his stage career and use it as some foundation for his story, although what he comes up with – a hellish mesh of past horrors alongside the regret of resigning a performance act to history, and the horror film trope of the self-activating puppet, is still very much the unexpected. Katy Brand hits a very noticeably chatty tone and style with her fast-moving tale of a man finding an unexpected message; once again we're in worth-the-price-of-entry-alone territory with this one. Less so with Richard Herring and his own brand of rattling, talkative narration (asides about 'no parking signs' included that may have been drafted for stand-up), although his potentially fearful work is enjoyable. Rufus Hound tries to force the emotion of entrapment on the reader, but can't get too far from what we've read before elsewhere. Danielle Wheeler is the third and last female contributor, with a story very much akin in some ways to Katy Brand's, although one less successful in its mysterious end and its cultural references – something quite a few of the authors cannot help but bring in from their routines and newspaper column careers.
Phil Jupitus is guilty of that in a way too, by mentioning some competitive cake making TV programme early on, and he ends with what might be an unfortunately comedic line, but in between he's great in evoking an enraptured Yuppie. Witness, too, Michael Legge, who has come up with a brilliant look at what happens when a man starts annoying his wife by talking gibberish in his sleep after a major medical problem, but has disguised it in a brashness that veers on being snide, and it's certainly the first horror story I've read to discuss the Twitter fallout of its scenario's development. And self-reference concludes proceedings, when Charlie Higson shows us an ageing movie star visiting a serious horror fan's abode for an evening of reminiscing over the (very) old times.
That then is the summary. But equally as important as my verdict as to how the book succeeds is that fleeting though that it might have ended up being all that I described earlier. It's just as valid to say what the book is as well as how bad the book could have been. And bar the one page I'll gloss over, it's not bad at all. I've tried and failed at stand-up, I've not particularly tried a horror story, but I doubt my competence at one would be so trained I would automatically be able to switch to the other. This is not the result of some job-swapping reality TV show, this is the real thing, with veritable authors pulling many of the stops (and viscera) out to show their worth writing horror. And it's just as nasty as it could be – but in all the right ways.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Short Stories by Chuck Palahniuk, Dennis Widmyer and Richard Thomas has many further instances of edgy, darker short fictions from a different selection of known and unknown names.
You can read more book reviews or buy Dead Funny by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains (editors) at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Dead Funny by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains (editors) at Amazon.com.
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