“19 year old thug, Craig Mawdsley has robbed your home, smashed your car and mugged your grandmother. Now he attempts his greatest ever assault on the general public – by writing a book.” From the blurb you would probably expect Baker’s debut novel to be a gritty slice of urban social realism, be it a superior specimen like Mike Duff’s Low Life, or else one of the latter-day Richard Allen wannabe ten-a-penny hoolie-literature you tend to see stocking up the counter in HMV. At first it seems this may well be the case, as the repulsive Mawdsley begins his tale, glaring at passers by and abusing a student on a bus. Very soon after however, the book is soon shown to both more and less than that at the same time.
The central concept/main gimmick of It’s Mawdsley is essentially how a book would read if written by the kind of person who would never write a book, a stream of consciousness from someone who is barely conscious. So when this ignorant, immoral, psychotic, racist, misogynist toss-bag puts pen to paper he is not only writing in language in which every other word is shit, cunt, fuck or wank – the events he writes about, sculpted in his fetid psyche, bear only the slightest passing resemblance to reality. After being (literally) bludgeoned into a vat of (literal) shit it was his (actual) job to (literally) stir, Mawdsley wakes up to find the skies are purple, and proceeds to travel the world in a kind of warped Pilgrims Progress of utterly implausible events, meeting Rolf Harris, Matthew Kelly, the great and good of Hollywood, Mr Tony Blair and eventually even higher figures of authority, on the way punching, kicking, raping, and killing at random, occasionally pausing from insulting the characters in the text to insult the reader directly, ie. ” Nice Wasn’t it? You poncey speccy 4-eyed next chapter reading twat.”
To criticise the plot of this book is impossible – it is intentionally absurd. To complain that the text frequently wanders off into the most extremely graphic descriptions of the most grotesque sex and violence, penises getting sliced off and shoved up arses, shitting down eye-ball sockets etc, is also fruitless. The book is clearly trying to be transgressive, as vile as possible, so as to underline both the hideousness of the character, and test the boundaries of how much hideousness the novel format can take. The question is, when an author has the get out clause of “yes its supposed to be” for the charges of (as in this case) bigotry, puerility, repetitiveness, eye-watering misogyny and general misanthropy, does this still make either an interesting or worthwhile read?
For me, in a similar spirit of sitting on the fence well – it’s a bit of both. For a book about a con, let’s start with the cons. As we have established, transgressive is the watchword here, and it certainly can’t be accused of dangerous pornography, as the intent is to sicken, not arouse. That does not stop the fact that trawling through pages of cocks being shoved into every available orifice, knives being shoved where they shouldn’t, AIDS being deliberately inflicted etc, often succeeds not only in being revolting, but also in being boring too. Point made, move on. Indeed, at times it seems the combination of revulsion and repetitive tedium involved is intended to dare the reader not to read on, to be literally unreadable, anti-reader, as direct an insult to the reader as the narrator who constantly calls you an effete prick who deserves to die. Once again, an idea successfully achieved. But patience is tested without especially being rewarded.
In terms of sheer grotesquery, the worst passages are up with the most sickening in American Psycho and Naked Lunch, but with less than a fraction of the satirical invention of the former or the savage flair for language of the latter. Beyond the goading of the reader, it is hard to see what successful points are being made. The falseness of lefty reader reliance on “authentic” prole heroes? A deliberate and sarcastic attack on the concept of those who bemoan the lack of the “common voice” in literature? Maybe, probably not. But if it’s laughable to look for “the message” here, that underlines a sense of pointlessness still more. When Mawdsley is implicated into the War on Terror in a series of ever more extreme plot twists the strokes are not so much broad as paint-roller sized. Occasionally you expect some punch-line to punctuate the unending sordidness –it never comes.
The good points? Well basically, while the passages of extremity may go on too long, the initial sheer extremity and obnoxiousness on display is often pretty funny, or at least I thought so. Outside the extremes of sex and violence, the central narrative comedic theme is that the voice of Mawdlsey pervades not only the narrative of the book, but every character in it, every one of whom therefore talks exactly like Mawdsley themselves. Amidst the absurdity and hideousness, the actual cadences of speech of the central character are captured very well throughout. When they are absurdly transplanted to every other character, this is a genuinely amusing conceit which works pretty well. Here for instance is President George Walker Bush addressing the Academy Award Ceremony: –
“Ladies and gentleman,” he said again, “Being the biggest, most powerful bellend in the world has brought loads of shithot things into me life yeah? Its got me money, minge, shithot nose gear. But the best thing I like about this President bollocks…is the violence yeah? “
And here is a letter from the DHSSS: –
” Dear LonelyPonderingUnemployedChavCu
Because we know you got sacked from that shit job what we got you, we have decided to piss you off by sending you this letter yeah? Unless you come to our offices in the town hall at 6 0’CLOCK IN THE FUCKING MORNING –ON NEW YEARS DAY OF ALL FUCKING DAYS –we will stop giving you FreeFuckingMoney to pay your rent. Got that? I expect not, what with you being such a spastic. ”
Well, I found that funny. Make no mistake, if you don’t, you will hate the book. For me, moments like this, Mawdsley’s more elaborate direct insults to the reader, the more inventive moments where his inarticulacy assumes an anti-charming diction of its own (his mobile has the functions “talk to cunt” and “fuck cunt off”), and a few key scenes such as Matthew Kelly leading a televisual lynch mob against our “hero” all add up to a bawdy bachanalian surrealism which made me laugh, when the non-stop puerile proceedings on display had a real liveliness to them. Stupidly funny, nasty, straightforward, idiotic fun. At times.
At its best the book is like a novelisation of a particularly savage Viz cartoon. And that’s a good thing. At its worst its like a cross between a deliberately obtuse art project and a sour collection of Youtube nasties. As a whole, it is horrible, and should not exist. Just like the author wanted. But for a grand study in baseness, and some genuine base laughs, you could do worse. The author certainly couldn’t.