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Barcelona Plates [Hardcover]

Alexei Sayle
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Feb 2000
A septuagenarian contract killer, a chronic hypochondriac, two zombie-creating comedians, a good samaritan and a man called Barnaby who drives a small white car. These are just a few of the inhabitants of Alexei Sayle's world; a world where life can at times be cool and dark,or blood-hot and violent - but always served up with a twist.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; First Edition edition (17 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340767529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340767528
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.2 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,362,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Liverpool, the only child of Communist parents, Alexei moved to London in 1971 to attend Chelsea Art School. He became the first MC of the Comedy Store and later the Comic Strip. After years of stand-up, television, sitcoms, films and even a hit single, he published his first highly acclaimed collection of short stories. BARCELONA PLATES was followed by THE DOG CATCHER, two novels: OVERTAKEN and THE WEEPING WOMEN HOTEL and a novella, MISTER ROBERTS. STALIN ATE MY HOMEWORK is his first work of non-fiction.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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


'His style is comic black, attritional, exasperated but he loves his characters as much as he makes them suffer. Most of all though, his work is full of ideas. This is his strength ... he packs his pages with twists and turns, pay-offs and surprises. All of which helps to make the book entertaining.'


14 bleak funny pitiless tales ... This is life looked at through the wrong end of a telescope, the vision of Nathaniel West in Miss Lonelyhearts, and to my mind just as good (Observer)

Sayle is a funny man, and these tales of pensioners-turned-hitmen, mysterious white Fiat Unos, and inveterate hypochondriacs defy you not to smile at the incremental absurdity of ordinary life. (The Sunday Times)

'[a] startlingly good collection of short stories ... Sayle has an impressive sense of place ... and a great sense of timing ... This is an excellent fictional debut, fizzing with anger and glee. Nor has he forgotten that old showbiz trick of leaving the audience wanting more.'

Evening Standard

A cracking read .. dense with smart ideas, sour observations and loony rants (Independent on Sunday)

'This is without doubt one of the funniest books I've ever read and his forthcoming novel is that rare thing, a comic novel worth looking forward to.'

Birmingham Post

'You will read them, re-read them, and never stop talking about them.'

Muriel Gray

Barcelona Plates will put a smile on your face and a chill down your spine (Time Out)

Alexei Sayle's manner on the page is the same as it is on screen and stage: arch, dessicated and menacing ... 'The Last Woman Killed in the War' is a thrilling and sensitive meditation on history, race and identity; confirming Sayle as a brilliant chronicler of big stories set in small worlds." (The Times)

'One is struck by his acute observation, his savage humour, his ability to fill a page with more ideas than most people use for a whole book.'

Scotland on Sunday

This book is a complete revelation to me ... It's punchy and real and you feel the real weight of a personality behind it. It's terribly funny, full of characters who come out of reality rather than out of other fiction, and I completely agree with those who say that the final story, 'The Last Woman Killed in the War' is a masterpiece. The end of it is one of the most extraordinary pieces of writing I can remember. Brilliant tragedy and brilliant comedy delivered in one stunning sentence. It reminded me of the awesome ending to Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust. More importantly, though, it reminded me most of nothing I'd ever read before. (Douglas Adams)

'An impressive debut collection of stories that are unusual, more than a little leftfield, and satisfyingly complete.'


These stories are eventful, high-energy, unpredictable, implausible yarns, full of swearing, cars, guns and knives, alcohol, violence and mad people. And they're also very funny. (Independent)

'A brilliantly acute collection of short stories that cut to the quick of contemporary life... concise, starkly contemporary, [Barcelona Plates] boasts a waspish humour.'

Glasgow Herald

There is not a single disappointment among the 14 tales here each manages to twist and turn its way through just enough pages, never outstaying its welcome and, more often than not, turning up a stonker of a surprise as a pay-off. In a criminally neglected genre, Alexei Sayle has just turned out to be one of the masters. (Big Issue)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Sayle has both mellowed and hardened over the years; he's very much more sympathetic to some of his characters than he was in 'Train to Hell', but the world view here is still desperately dark and cynical. The protagonists (who are basically glove puppets for his usual, very funny style of observational surrealism) never achieve any kind of happy ending, and rarely end up better off than they were at the beginning. It's never their fault; they just tend to be in the wrong (or right) place at the wrong time.
Sayle manages to get off some vicious shots at the media world he simultaneously inhabits and despises (what did Vic and Bob - sorry, Nic and Tob - ever do to him?), but the real anger in these cleverly-constructed stories is directed at hypocrisy and stupidity on a wider scale, from rich Londoners living in a self-created bubble, to the Catholic Church, and most successfully in 'The Minister for Death', to society's attitude towards pensioners. Most of the time this works well; occasionally a slightly lighter touch might have worked better.
This isn't really a comedy book - despite the fact it contains some of the funniest stuff I've read in years (the end of 'My Life's Work' may have caused me physical harm from laughing so much). What humour it contains is as black as it gets, but all the more refreshing for being so.
It's unlike anything else you will read for years, which is recommendation enough in itself. If you like Sayle's stuff, buy it. If you're not sure, buy it anyway, as it slips down deceptively easily, but be aware that you'll need a dark sense of humour to get the joke in some cases.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Knew It..! 3 Jan 2001
By A Customer
Alexei Sayle has been a hero of mine for years, from his stand-up, album, singles, series and now this! Everything he has done before seems to be as substantial as his cameo performances in Hollywodd movies. This is not to detract from his past work, but rather to mark the very real birth of a comic artist. He displays all the range of a contemporary writer, all the precision of attention of a stand-up artiste, and all the satirical malice of the truly English - but more than this, he does it so well it makes you want to write along with him, to get in on the game! I know that there have been critics of his apparent selling-out to the advertising world, but who can say that they would not do so to earn a living. It is one thing to have values, it is quite another to cripple one's self with them forever. And if it is the remuneration from television advertising that has been his mainstay while creating this masterpiece, then I hope to hear more of him on the page and in the advert breaks in future!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. Funny, disturbing, thought-provoking 15 Feb 2000
By A Customer
Not what you'd expect from Alexei Sayle perhaps, (well, not quite what I expected). I'd always suspected he was very intelligent and this book really confirms that. He is also such an acute observer : he looks at characters with such a clear eye. They jump fully-formed from the page. They are all very specifically located - the place descriptions are short but very successful - you feel you are there. The stories are gripping and funny but quite often disturbingly nasty. My favourites were the opening one "Barcelona Plates" which is sort of about how boring it can be being on holiday and also what it would be like to be a totally different person; "Last Woman Killed in the War" is , I think, a masterpiece. It's funny but also made me cry. (I noticed the guy who reviewed it in "The Times" thought it was a masterpiece too!) It's about how times change and one generation's sin is the commonplace of the next generation. When I was a teenager it was a disgrace to get pregnant outside marriage - it could literally ruin your life and thousands of poor girls were pressurised into giving their babies away. Alexei has a wonderful insight into that and into how attitudes have changed. I also thought "Minister for Death" was brilliant. So different - an old age pensioner who is a hired killer. Once a hard case, always a hard case. So in summary, I would say these stories are all very different. I would be surprised if, like me, people did not have favourites. But I liked the entire book and would 100% recommend it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio Cassette
Barcelona Plates is probably the best talking book I have bought. Sayle's Tales of everyday folk in bizzare situations, and bizzare folk in everday situations is absolutely brimming with quirky humour, which is made all the more entertaining by Sayle's fast-paced and passionate delivery. From Barnaby's brush with a doomed royal couple, to the old-age hit man, these stories show the dark under-belly of the human soul, stripped down to it's rawest emotions. The M6 will never seem the same again!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full Plates Engaging food for thought 26 Nov 2000
By A Customer
Alexei Sayle is one of the few Marxist comics out there working, and as such he has a slightly different take on the world. His appreciation of the situations people find themselves in make these stories fresh and interesting. Although not laugh-out-loud funny, and some stories are not all that exciting to read, overall the book has a certain depth, a sound "bottom" as the British say, that sticks with one after reading. The intelligent and subtle perception that mark Mr Sayles story telling stay with one, such that the stories unfold in your mind for a few days after. I'm giving a bunch out for Christmas.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Crazy tales from the man in the too-tight suit
Despite a rousing endorsement from the legendary Douglas Adams on the back cover, Sayle's first collection of short fiction is something of a mixed bag in terms of quality. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Scaroth, Last of the Jagaroth
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent collection of short stories
One I have recommended to friends on many occasions. Even to my book club although they have not seen fit to include it in their reading list yet. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Henry Blythe
4.0 out of 5 stars Sure to make you laugh
This is a collection of short stories, all of which have either a sinister or an amusing twist in the tail. For some, the twist is both sinister and amusing. Read more
Published on 19 Jun 2010 by Lance Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and edgy
This is a vivid and deeply funny collection of often nihilistic stories from a man with a razor-sharp wit and an intelligent mind. Read more
Published on 20 May 2007 by Elizabeth Gershwin
4.0 out of 5 stars I cant give 5 stars to anything...
..apart from David Sedaris I s'pose. Alexie Sayle has been around for awhile & lets be honest here, his live & TV output has been rotten & bloated for a decade. Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2004 by "meddling_kids"
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply excellent short story telling
The good short story is the hardest form of writing to master. Sayle produces enjoyable reading throughout this collection. Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Black Humour at its best this is an excellent book - read it
This is an excellent book that fills out truly original ideas into short stories so that you can fully enjoy the build up to the punchline/twist. Read more
Published on 27 Nov 2000
2.0 out of 5 stars Emperor�s Old Clothes
Having watched Sayle ooze confidence on promotional televison appearances for Barcelona Plates I was sincerely hoping that the man who told Michael Parkinson about of the... Read more
Published on 13 Nov 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Original, dramatic but a bit of a curate's egg.
This is an arresting collection of stories, from a writer who has depth and bleakness and poetry in his veins. Read more
Published on 14 Sep 2000
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