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Fodder


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Success Stories

by Tara West

fodder1.jpg

ISBN 0 85640 729 1 Published by Blackstaff Press, 2002 287pp, paperback Retail price 7.99

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams

I had a few problems with this novel. I think all the problems can be put down to one simple phrase: "the writer tries too hard". There's just too much of everything in this novel: too much profanity, too much disgust, too much idiosyncrasy, too much perversity, too much worship at the altar of Irvine Welsh (she even name-checks "Trainspotting" at one point) and just too damn much (fucken [sic] much?) style!

That said, as a picture of sectarian teenage life in one of the worst areas of Belfast, I don't know of much to beat it. As a picture of the insanities inherent in adolescence, it's the next step to Catcher in the Rye. And as a picture of the hippie/punk generational interface, I have the feeling it could find itself quoted in book lists during meaningful degree literature or culture courses.

It is also, when it really gets flowing, genuinely funny. And that is a rare enough thing to be definitely noteworthy.

The book concerns the efforts of Cookie, Cuchulain, a much put-upon Belfast teenager, to follow his ever more elaborate and, by the end, totally pointless, attempt at a campaign of revenge against all those who have hurt him throughout his life. His attempts include super-gluing his own faeces to an enemy's head, substituting rats for an enemy's baby, attempting to spike an enemy with acid, etc. Nearly all of these attempts end in far more suffering to Cookie than to his attempted victim. And he increasingly disintegrates himself, as represented by the continuing disintegration of his, missing, mother's house.

There are many memorable characters in this novel. Prince, Cookie's sex-bomb of a musician brother (just why does he spend so much time in the bathroom?); Boo, the trendy restaurant keeper (why is he so interested in and tolerant of Cookie and his increasingly eccentric behaviour?) and Bonehead, Cookie's friend, the Neil Cassady to Cookie's Jack Kerouac character (and some of West's descriptions of Bonehead's driving are truly excellent) who, however, is desperate to join the "Proddy" gangs.

There is much, in short, to commend this book to the reader. It is full of energy, conviction, and commitment. It is, however, rather short on lucidity. I kept feeling there was a really good story in here that was being kept hidden by the writer's overwhelming need to keep to her style. That's a bit of a shame. While complicated can be good, sometimes simple is better.

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