BOOK REVIEW: By Wil Walker
TITLE: THE PERFECT FOOL AUTHOR: STEWART LEE
As part of the tale, Stewart Lee informs (or possibly reminds) us of an ancient American Indian legend which describes "a beautiful ugly monster". It's a fitting description too, for a book which deals both with eternal high concepts and everyday base minutiae, blending them into a story-line which draws together Hollywood style landscapes and London high street grime.
World-wide secret organisations and conspiracies... plodding prog-rock bands... religion... nostalgia... ropy old sex videos... and many a mid-life crisis... just about every source of pub conversation for the mid-to-late 30's male is introduced into the story at one point or another.
The prose style in which he chooses to do this resembles some proto-stream of consciousness which actively unfolds or creates the tale as you watch, rather than that of merely relating a series of events which has happened already. The resulting effect is an almost beatnik manner of delivery, combined with an air of the ancient spoken story teller, at once adding gravitas and supplying a (deliberate ?) mocking tinge of underlying sarcasm.
This in itself won't surprise long-time Lee fans, who will doubtless delight in spotting many of his favourite lines, from 'skelingtons' to 'Look impressed' and a dozen other familiar catch-phases, subjects and situations. But there's little cause for the uninitiated to worry, as everything you need to know is explained along the way, without intruding on the gathering pace of the proceeding plot. In fact, even Mr Lee's customary self-evident smugness at being so well-read can be forgiven, as it all makes sense in the end. That is to say, there are no obvious loose ends left dangling in the ether.
For all its complexity, the plot itself isn't going to stagger anyone in the way it eventually plays out, but that's not really the point, to me at least, of the book. Rather it serves as a focus for all the great and useless thoughts which pass through the mind, with the humour arising from embarrassment at recognising familiar dreams and aspirations as being disappointingly ordinary.
I imagine people will read the book, then spend long drunken lock-in evenings saying, Yeah, he's right about such'n'such', or No, that's so wide of the mark...
Whatever, it's well worth a read, either for those of us of a similar age, or for the younger 'Child Army' of Lee fans who wish to learn which phrases to drop into conversations when they pretend they were alive in the 70's.