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