Barcelona Plates Hardcover – 17 Feb 2000
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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) See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
This he does partially... but only partially. Barcelona Plates does have some engaging elements. It is crisply written with occasionally sympathetic - if a little patronising - treatment of the cast of characters. The book is not, however, a page turner. After ploughing through the first two shorts I began to look forward less and less to what Sayle would tell me next.
It does not help, of course, that the book is sometimes rather clumsily written; certain passages leap out from the book and scream for a good editor. That said it is an interesting first effort. One wonders, however, whether such glowing reviews from the likes of Douglas Adams would have been quite so forthcoming had the book been written by Sid Fotheringay of Streatham.
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If you like your humour deep black, and enjoy somebody brilliantly tearing into things which annoy you, you will...Read more