Comedians rarely make great fiction writers, the temptation to throw in cheap one-liners distracting them from any substantial narrative--which is why Alexei Sayle's first attempt at proper literature is a nice surprise. Although riddled with dark humour, his short story collection Barcelona Plates is actually best when he's being serious. Sayle has a knack for story-telling and a twisted imagination which creates perverse characters. They're mostly melancholic beings whose lives are in a rut when the smallest twist of fate changes everything--from the call centre employee who spills cream on her suit to the business woman who loses her keys. Especially good is "The Minister For Death", in which a retired pipe fitter from Liverpool discovers, after an incident returning from the chip shop with a steak pie, that old people are invisible in modern society and gains retribution as the "stealth codger".
After 17 years in London, Sayle's representation of his adopted city is powerful--from a nature reserve in Kings Cross to likely lads down Bermondsey, from wealthy Islington squares to Clerkenwell on a Saturday night. He eruditely describes the early evening Soho populace as, "Clerks in raincoats clutching beer bottles by the neck, standing outside bars looking up and down the street as if good times were about to arrive in a taxi."
Barcelona Plates is side-tracked from time to time by rants, such as Disneyland's rancid evil or the "stupidity" of recent comedy, mirroring Sayle's sardonic demeanour and acerbic monologues on TV. However overall, it's an entertaining collection of absurd yarns. --Sarah Champion [via]