The fourth from Welsh author Griffiths (Sheepshagger, 2002, etc.) gives vent to wasted urban youth via sadistic sex and feisty vernacular.
The festivities celebrating the new millennium have been going on for three days when Victor, young, unemployed, and partied out, meets vixenish Kelly in a Liverpool bar haunted by lagerlouts, bagheads (drugs addicts), and prozzies (prostitutes). Kelly’s brand of aggressive sex—lots of choking, nail scratching, and commanding—appeals to Victor and makes him feel alive rather than like the doped-out manual laborer on the dole that he actually is. But over a few days, as their sadistic sex on drugs gets out of hand, Kelly grows only more vicious and Victor more compliant. It’s a chilling tale, the first half in Victor’s voice: he’s a gentle soul with a gutter mouth and becomes obsessed with Kelly’s throttling power while indulging in fantasies of true love and fatherhood. But, no dummy, he also observes how life’s “barriers” of joblessness and interminable bureaucracy have brutalized his disaffected generation: “This city’s full of screamers, howlers, people who do nowt but roar.” Kelly’s voice, in the second part, hardly different in its colloquial invective, lets us know that Kelly’s trip with a friend to flagellate and humiliate a rich man chained in his basement is what whet her appetite for power. She walks out of her shopgirl job and concludes: “There’s more to life than this mind-numbin, soul-crushin shite, there’s more to life, I’ve seen the proof”—the “more” to be tying up poor Victor and choking him. Still, Griffiths’s raw patois scratches effectively under the skin, and even unsavory characters who still call their mums can elicit sympathy. Yet the repetitive litany of the sex—revisited interminably in Kelly’s version—numbs in the end, and trying to get straight all the preposterous positions of limbs and torsos finally tires one out.
Modern romance? More like an exorcism of writerly boredom.