Frank Burton is from
Lancashire. He has written and performed poetry as well as
writing short fiction. The
World, taken from this collection, has been broadcast on
BBC Radio 4.
with Frank Burton
"Duncan Grassmore was
arrested for impersonating a police officer. He was arrested
by his identical twin brother, Declan."
Reviewed by Pauline Masurel
Sarcasm is the art of telling lies for laughs, and it is also about
bonding over recognition of the sarcastic wit. We laugh because we
share the knowledge that the joke is the lie (and the lie is the joke).
The title story's narrator, Dr Stephen Rent, describes how his
grandmother initiated him into the experience of sarcasm. He also
postulates that sarcasm is The Dark Side, where things are in
opposition to the conventional mindset. Hence, what could be more
natural than his completing the second half of this autobiographical
essay as a cat?
is also a liar's art, and this book contains some whoppers, starting
with the introduction by an academic mentor of Frank Burton who fakes
his own fictionality. True or bluff?
The story Joost is a fictional lecture about a fictional language called Gargardian.
"There is no moral to this story. That's what I like about it.
In many respects, Gargardian is a pointless language.
It is also very beautiful."
Voom and Bloom
is just such a pointless, yet beautiful thing. It uses lyrical language
to describe a scenario and then totally undercuts itself in a parody of
a dream that makes us doubt the veracity and viewpoint of the story.
Which is almost a shame, because I was enjoying the strange delight of
these individuals who are liquid. However, this doesn't invariably
happen in Frank Burton's stories. For example, on a similar theme of
human liquidity, The Day She Melted is a delicate flash fiction with no hint of a sarcastic punchline.
much of the writing in these stories is rather knowing and self-aware.
It reminds me at times of the self-reflexiveness and experiments with
form and the boundaries of fact and fiction in the short short stories
of Dave Eggers. Some readers will enjoy this, others find it
irritating. In Monica Gets Messages
the main character is receiving secret messages through the media. The
story sends its own (reassuring) secret message by way of covert
capitalisation to the reader. It would be a touching story without the
hidden subtext, but in this context the playfulness is pleasing and
adds to the overt story being told. For me, all that really matters, is
whether the means of telling complements or augments the story, rather
than detracting from it. On balance I'll always applaud bravery, but if
pushed too far I reserve the right to say that I "can't be doing with
it". Luckily, this collection interests me far more than it ever gets
diversifies away from sarcasm to consider....(entirely
unexpectedly)...irony. It has multi-layered truths about a crime
fiction author who writes about victims who all meet their end in
horribly ironic manner. It folds layers of reality and identity back
and forth over themselves to reach its own ending. The book ends with
another metafictional work entitled The Nature of Human Happiness by F.R. Pseudovich.
It contains sections called Introduction, Chapter 1, Conclusion, Index
and Notes. It's a brave move, and has its funny moments, such as the
list of other 'Philistine Publications', but in the end it
distinguishes itself mainly by flaunting its quirk. It's good to see
these experimental lunges amongst the more conventional story-shaped
writing, but I found other pieces in this book stronger, more original
This book is obsessed with lists and also somewhat obsessed with obsessions. Multiple Stories
investigates what it's like for there to be more than one of you.
Fittingly it does this in a number of different stories, some about
twins, some about doppelgangers, some about spiritual doubles. The
somewhat surreal stories in this collection can sometimes be gentle and
whimsical, as in Walter Walks Sideways,
about a man (called Walter) who decides to do just that. (Don't expect
a punchline. That's the story). But at other times the obsessions
become violently destructive, at least to a character's social
well-being if not physically as well, as in Aabehlpt (about a character who tries to alphabetisise his whole life) and The Wondering,
I'm awake with the sun in my eyes, and I'm lying on the concrete path
beside the bench where one of the lobsters has superglued me to the
ground. The little fucker's up a tree, and he's woken me by flicking
acorns at my head.
Fine way to start the day."And that, ladies and gentleman, is
sarcasm. "Fine way to start the day. Fucking lobsters."And if that
raised a smile then you'll probably enjoy this book. Even if it didn't
grab you, you might want to check out this collection anyway. Frank
Burton is a new lobster on the block, and I don't think he intends to
stop chucking acorns, making lists, obsessing about twins or.... Well,
bully for him, I say. Doesn't he sound like a nice boy?