After societal, economic, and technological collapse rocks Britain, authors stubbornly ply their (mostly obsolete) trade crammed into a high-rise in the north.
In this debut novel, set in the mid-21st century, digital culture has proved ruinous for writers. First, publishers dictated that only the simplest, bottom-line pablum be produced. Second, a socioeconomic meltdown, precipitated by widespread tech failures (bad screws in the motherboard cooling fans), left Britain a wasteland, roamed by artificial intelligence appliances gone feral and starving digi-pets. While the principal economy and infrastructure center on the lone surviving big business, a Scottish call center (itself just a minor subsidiary of a U.S.-based, Rupert Murdoch-like multinational), authors stubbornly pursue their craft and egos in a communal high-rise, sometimes for just a couple of paying readers. Cal McIntyre, a narrator perpetually working—or not—on a “meta-novel” called The House of Writers, compiles formidable lists of silly, nonexistent books and offers a tour of the building, with different genres on each floor. There are name-dropping details of a “Farewell Authors Conference”; lists of fictitious sexual positions; descriptions of flash-in-the-pan literary movements seeking relevance (the gender-bending Anti-cis-heteronormativists); and entire catalog entries oriented toward Scottish shortbread. Real-life, dust-jacket celebrities (Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Jodi Picoult, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, graphic designer Chip Kidd) blend with the invented scribblers and cranks, who still follow their muses and remain vain and self-centered loons, despite conditions wherein their products serve practically no purpose. Comedian and writer Spike Milligan would certainly approve of Glasgow author Nicholls’ novel, a piece of literary goonery (or, to Yanks, Monty Pythonism) that lacks a particularly strong plot. As with Monty Python and The Goon Show, the audience either gets the dense barrages of absurdist humor or not. At one point, Jesus even returns, but, after being largely ignored by House of Writers occupants, the Savior departs, leaving an angry, obscene note behind (though Cal theorizes the message could have been one author’s idea of a practical joke). The encouraging theme beneath the satire seems to be that, no matter what, writers and writing (and all the attendant aggravations and pretensions) will persist. Perhaps Cal’s meta-novel will turn out to be the Best Book That Ever Existed.
Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession.