Satisfyingly deranged. This book is a brilliant, whacked out of shape debut – it probably needs trigger warnings about various forms of abuse, drug, drink, sex, violence, exploitation and ultimately, a little bit of death.
Irina, our utterly unreliable narrator, is nearing the end of her twenties, living back in her home town of Newcastle. She has been a fine art student, specialising in fetishised photography of ‘un-model-like’ men who she randomly picks up and gives her business card to. Those who turn up, and don’t bore her, get to be her model for the day, sometimes longer. She makes some money from her bar job, but she makes most of her money selling the dodgier end of her photography portfolio to ‘select’ clients.
She is also massively into drugs. Any drugs. Whatever she can get her hands on. A lot of the novel involves her trying to piece together what happened in the preceding hours, puking or generally zonked out on the couch trying to recover.
Predictably, it gets messy.
“The sandwich I have already regurgitated once today works its way back up my gullet, escaping in full this time. It lands in the water with a splat…Carbs are a rarity for me, and, upon reflection, I should not be surprised that my body has rejected this floury Tesco baguette like a mismatched organ.“
We’ve only got to page 6. As a whole it put me in mind of Helen Walsh’s Brass from 2004. Which is a good thing.
As her success as a photographic artist grows, so Irina’s (sex) life becomes increasingly violent; she blurs boundaries all over the place; she starts seeing things, whether they are hallucinations or flashbacks, is never really clear; her mind unravels, at an increasing pace as the book careers along. It is a quick read. But not for those with overly visual imaginations.
It would be wrong not to mention the utterly charming acknowledgements section, which concludes: “(my partner)…George’s unconditional love and support was imperative to the writing, editing and completion of this book, and will be to all further projects. Unless we split up, in which case, what a massive gaffe this will be, eh?“
…or the opening dedication: “For my mother and father. Please don’t read this.“