It was bad news for admirers of Armitage's poetry when he broke the news that he wasn't going to be writing a poetic first novel. Even more distressing, for women at any rate, was when we discovered that we're not talking about just the one little green man here, but a full cast of immature, sour and downright decaying male characters. And the cover picture is a blatant hazard warning of embarrassing nineteen seventies childhood nostalgia ahead. How could that nice Simon Armitage do this to us?
I'd say give it a go. The novel opens with an exquisitely atmospheric prologue, worth the cover price alone for any poetry fan, before we come down from the attic straight into prosy blokeland. Armitage then quickly starts to draw his audience into a risky game of his own to parallel that in the plot.
The man telling the story, Barney, seems like a nice enough guy, thirty-odd, Northern, a bit like Armitage himself really. Ha. One by one, our assumptions about Barney are deftly slid from under our feet. Maybe he's not quite so nice after all, his laddishness more destructive than charming. Maybe his ex-wife can give us more insight in a casual remark than Barney can muster in a whole book. (And maybe we would be wise not to take Barney's word for it on her iciness . . .) But then, maybe he's had a harder time of it than we first realised. Maybe he's starting to learn from his mistakes and grow up at last. It's when we find out that the git hasn't only been lying to his mates, he's been lying to us too, and yet we're still hoping for his redemption, that we grasp the subtlety of Armitage's achievement.
I could still have done with a bit less of the spangles and curly wurlies though . . .