Reviewed by Mark Dalligan
Fair warning, this collection is a far from a comfortable read. Although it apparently began life during regular Saturday visits to the Talbot pub in Hackney, these are not drunken jottings. The theme, as far as I understand it, is that we are like Sisyphus, vain deceivers forced to push that rock uphill until it rolls back down and we start all over again. It is about mind- numbing frustration, the realisation that everything is meaningless and the limited choices we have to cope with it.
After struggling through the coldly pornographic The Geography of a Psychopath (it seems to have been placed at the front of the book to discourage the innocent from reading further) I almost abandoned the remaining twenty seven episodes of urban life. That would have been a shame as of Mr Rourke’s take on surviving the urban world is well worth reading and contains not a little humour and wry observation. The introductory piece is just a bit heavy.
In The Geography of a Psychopath, a middle-aged wannabe writer moulders. Recently made redundant from his day job he is bored with existence and waiting to see what Fate will put in his path (this world is not one where positive action is usually successful). Waiting for him is rough sex with a young woman, owner of a mysterious book, a sharer of his infatuation with London. It is a very violent adventure.
Some of my favourite snapshots are:
On the Banks has another bored protagonist who seeks to escape his office and colleagues by taking sick days to go fishing on the Regent’s Canal. He finds relaxation, though perhaps "loses himself" is a better description, appreciating the symmetry of the wildlife. Teenagers violently disrupt his meditations.
Night Shift finds a female student contemplating changing her evening bar job to escape her revolting clientele and dreary employment. She sips champagne at her interview in a Soho sex joint as men drool and a rotting siren encourages their lust.
Mon Amie is a portrait of an office worker who hides from tedium and weekday drudgery in the soporific glasses he downs at the local pub. This is a short tale of accepting that life is effectively a series of blunders to be borne. That we are all stuck in a rut until we die and need to find a way to deal with it.
Gravestones follows Charlie Bruen’s journey on foot from Hoxton to a potentially life changing appointment. He encounters and drinks with deadbeats who, like himself, survive the grinding mill of life by using the bottle. The story concludes poetically at the non-conformist Bunhill Cemetry.
The Wolf tracks down a man who has discovered that the secret of contentment lies in doing nothing. His routine is disrupted by infatuation with an attractive co-worker. He briefly beds her at a bus stop, territory far from her props of husband, kids, pets and home.
Being Lee Rourke Is Boring places the author in a famous Soho pub. He is insular but not lonely, an observer of the interaction of his fellows. Like a vampire he takes sustenance from the fine red wines of the establishment and the coarse arguments of its punters. Repetition provides security, fills in time.
Read one of the stories from this collection on LauraHird.com.
Publisher: Social Disease
Publication Date: Dec 2007
First collection?: Yes
Author bio: Lee Rourke is a talented Mancunian writing out of East London, co-editor of 3AM Magazine and founder of the litzine Scarecrow.
Read an interview with Lee Rourke
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Franz Kafka "Metamorphosis and Other Stories"
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