Powerhouse Gothic

Joseph Darlington – Avon Murray (Joseph Darlington)

This collection of short stories by Joe Darlington is limited to less than a hundred copies, but it is well worth tracking down. The beautiful cover, designed by Broady Blackwell, suggests that the book dovetails at northern romanticism and neo-goth, Wuthering Heights perhaps, via some of the dark savagery of Ted Hughes. Avon Murray seems like a sick composite of High Peaks and Calder Valley towns.

But this book is also hilarious, in a bleak, nutty, dark way. The overall narrative involves The Search for The One Big Laugh, but The One Big Laugh is also Death. How much more quintessentially northern, of the Greater Manchester region, particularly its outlying Lancastrian towns, can you get?

The answer is none more. But this collection seems equally informed by the European surrealist tradition and bizarre 1970s works of Thomas Pynchon. The Brothers Even More Grimm and Will Self’s early novels, My Idea of Fun. It is not a simplistic leaden Lancashire comedy novel at all.

The Search for The One Big Laugh goes on through the history of Avon Murray. The Enlightenment section is particularly side-splitting, but also philosophically astute. It involves Elgar Nisferdanus, the Alchemist, with his OcculensadPurgatorisSpecularum. Voltaire’s Candide, then, floats ghostlike through the book too.

Then there’s young Toby and his addled father, finding equally raddled vagrants in the shed. Each section melts away into beautiful surrealist prose, leaving you giggling but feeling slightly frisked, before another weird fairground ride cranks up again:

‘She found herself a new man who gave her a new tongue. He’d carved it from all the editions of Capital he’d never read.’

Vintage jazz, poppers and vegan sausage rolls form the backdrop to a man called Stodge and a girl called Frigg, definitely names coming down to us from the Yorkshire Danelaw tradition. Martin Amis would approve of them, they are names that Do Jobs.

The tale of Sally Lumb, M.P., ‘Shievemaster’ and Town Planner, feels as though it is going to complete the narrative of Avon Murray, this Northwestern Twin Peaks. But the whole book is extinguished in the mind-ravishing tale of Celery, the Forest Spirit, seemingly all that is left after the deluge, after all the residents of Avon Murray have been fucked off to a world of pure shit.

That’s plenty of spoilers. You will need to hurry if you are to get one of these editions, run now, before reality itself buckles again: josefadarlington@hotmail.co.uk

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