Blindboy Boatclub book: A mixed plastic bag of mad ideas
This debut collection is big on creativity but, overall, short on satisfaction
Blindboy Boatclub, aka Dave Chambers
The Gospel According to Blindboy
978 07171 78872
From calling Holy Communion “haunted bread” on The Late Late Show to extolling the virtues of getting wrecked on bags of glue (a bag for me, a bag for you), the Rubberbandits have been arguably the most subversive and original comedy act to come out of Ireland in the past decade.
Fans of the Limerick hip-hop duo may approach this new collection of stories by Blindboy Boatclub, aka Dave Chambers, with a bias towards the author. Certainly, the book’s publisher, Gill, and the diverse array of blurbs on the cover, herald the arrival of a “genre-defying” collection that bears comparison to Flann O’Brien and Irvine Welsh.
In The Gospel According to Blindboy, there are echoes of the postmodern absurdity so accomplished in O’Brien’s writing, and in contemporary Irish authors such as Claire-Louise Bennett and Michael J Farrell. But these echoes are faint, bright blasts of laughter that get lost amid too many fantastical twists. The book needs a good fiction editor to rein in the admirable creativity on display. The collection is burdened with ideas, most of which wander off in whatever direction they wish. The 15 “Gas Cuntist” stories are commendably original but they expound on ideas or current events instead of bringing experiences to the reader, the bread and butter of good short story writing.
What makes the Rubberbandits so engaging is not just their subversive content but the form they choose to deliver it in. The scripts of their performances and videos come to life with cultivated accents, music, rhythm, even the plastic shopping bags they wear over their faces. In an insightful introduction, the author notes that a book is a more participatory experience, where the reader must imagine for themselves what the author is describing. Ironically, the biggest issue with The Gospel According to Blindboy is that there is little room for the reader to involve themselves in the narratives. Everything is told, directed, explained. This is partly to do with the insane twists, but they’re not enthralling enough to excuse it.
There is some truth to the publisher’s pronouncement of “genre-defying”. The surreal scope of the collection doesn’t lend itself well to an individual breakdown of the stories. For a flavour of what’s in store, there’s a Tipperary teenager who longs to join Isis, a pigeon that escapes Ireland for sunnier climates, and an ornithologist giving a Ted talk on an epidemic of bird attacks in Cork. There is humour in the new treatment of old jokes – the lilting Cork accent, the divisions between Collins and de Valera, the desperate longing of one young lad to “curate” a space at Body and Soul – helped along by a clever clash of historical material with modern media.
The collection is fearless in its content, with outrageous violence and sex in almost every story. The stories that pack the most punch hold back on the crazier twists, such as the poignant rendering of a dying grandfather in The Bournville Chorus, whose grandson saves him by getting the shift off a banshee in the garden. That this is one of the more traditional stories says much about the collection.
Place is easily evoked, with plenty to keep a Limerick crowd happy: the wonder of Durty Nelly’s; greasy chips from Donkey Ford’s; a teenage girl forbidden from going to the Energizer by her overprotective parents. This story, Ten-foot Hen Binding, is one of many that deal with mental health in a thought-provoking and sometimes beautifully clear manner – “It’s not the panic attacks that fuck your life up. It’s the fear of when and where the next one will happen” – before literally losing the plot in a bizarre episode in Bunratty.
Stories without end
The author’s love of knowledge comes through with interesting observations on everything from the theories of Freud to the origins of democracy. Mostly the historical detail is a starting-off point for absurd sexual or murderous fantasies. Arse Children is probably the most controversial of these, a story where the forefathers of Ireland have anal sex to ensure the country’s future. It is a good example of the wider problem of the collection – a smart, subversive idea with some whipsmart dialogue that is let ramble on to a strange end involving a social media witch-hunt.
With many of the stories, there is the sense of a brain dump: here’s a mad idea; let’s run with it. There is little care for what could be omitted, with stories that don’t know how to end so generally tend to sum things up in a neat, bloody conclusion.
Given that Horse Outside, the video that launched the Rubberbandits, has 16 million hits on YouTube, this collection is likely to appeal to a wide audience. The mildly diverting, outlandish interludes within will entertain in parts, and no doubt delight some of their fans, but at the risk of being pure awkward, these Gas Cuntist stories are short on gas.