Monday, 8 July 2013

The Perfect Fool

The Perfect Fool - Stewart Lee
The Perfect Fool
Stewart Lee
“The Perfect Fool” charts the progress of a collection of misfits, spread across the wide open spaces of Arizona and the narrow streets of South London, all unwittingly caught up in a quest for the Holy Grail."

People are generally wary of celebrities engaging in art forms other than the ones they’re primarily known for. Be it an actor releasing an album or a musician putting on an art exhibition, there always seems to be a backlash of people ready to moan about it.
I can understand it to an extent I suppose, “What makes him think he can just go off and write music, people toil away in obscurity all their life while he’s just given a record deal because he’s famous”. Maybe there’s a point there.
Though I must admit, I’m generally a fan of the celebrity side project. While I will concede that there have been some genuinely awful releases, clearly intended to cash in on the persons fame, for the most part, it’s just the result of a creative person wanting to try something new. And in this example, it’s great.

The Perfect Fool, is the debut novel by stand-up comic Stewart Lee. I’ve been a fan of Lee’s for several years and consider him to one of the funniest and most intelligent comedians around. Because of this I was very excited to read his novel, but was very surprised with what I found within its pages.
I expected the tone of the book to mimic his style of comedy and was surprised to find the book, for the most part, lacked any real humour at all.
It was a very melancholic book, especially towards the start. The ensemble cast each found themselves unhappy, failing at life. Sid and Danny, the musicians who missed their big break, not resigned to playing in a Dire Straights cover band. Tracy, the woman on the run from the police after a string of her lovers commit suicide. Lewis, the mental patient who woke up one day with no recollection at all of his life up to that point, now living in a bedsit with desperate aspirations to uncover his past.
They’re not a cheerful bunch.

I loved the characters in this book. Normally, an ensemble cast will leave you with your favourites that you want to read more about and usually at least one that you’re simply not interested in, whose parts you almost want to skip over. In this case however, I found every character very interesting and, while I liked some more than others, I still wanted to read more about every one of them. I loved the mystery surrounding them and happily devoured every new snippet of information that lead to discovering that little bit more about each of them.

The style of the book reminded me of Stephen King, some characters, the Sherriff and the mysterious Hampstead Man especially, felt like they could have ripped from the pages of his epic novels like The Stand or Under the Dome.
I loved the blending of Christian theology with the culture of the Hopi Indians and loved the insight we were given into the Native American culture, a world not often explored in fiction.
I’d also give Lee credit for producing the only book I’ve read that managed to use a first person narrative without it constantly distracting me from the story and ruining my immersion.

If I had one complaint it would be the dialogue which is at times incredibly unrealistic. It works for certain characters, the eloquent Hampstead Man for instance but when a down and out musician starts speaking in full paragraphs about destiny or the lure and mysticism of a certain band it doesn’t read too well.
It’s a minor complaint though and it only creeps in three or four times over the course of the novel.

I really enjoyed this one, and was surprised to find it was a lot different than what I had expected. If Lee’s careful crafting of stand up doesn’t convince you of his talents as a writer, this certainly will.

The Perfect Fool - Stewart Lee

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