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Perverted by Language: 
Fiction Inspired by The Fall

Various

edited by Peter Wild


" There’s more of them today, infesting the streets. With their rotten grape skin, wooden horns and hairspray eyes… We’ve got to practice for tonight’s show, a gig over in the tower shops with some band called Slaughter Shoes. Only we’re trying to keep quiet. Don’t want to attract any of them, don’t want them to know we’re here, so we’re playing without amps. I’m whispering my vocals and Ass Fort, our obese drummer, is smacking his legs with his sticks. "

Reviewed by Mark Brown

For the uninitiated, The Fall are a band formed amongst the red brick rubble and yellow sodium lights of a decaying mid-seventies Manchester. Surviving almost as many line-up changes as an average football team, the only constant is lyricist and centrepiece Mark E. Smith, a baleful autodidact, educated (non) working man, born from unemployment, voracious reading and a general wish to point out to all-and-sundry exactly where they are going wrong. Sharp, musically inventive and uncompromisingly bloody-minded, it is possible to see them as a Joy Division who didn’t escape into lofty modernism and emotional despair, instead staying behind; consuming and regurgitating English culture in an irritated frenzy of dyspeptic and, to an extent, impotent fury. As an early recording has it, Smith saw the band and himself as “the northern white crap that talks back. We are like you, but we have brains!”

Perverted by Language: Fiction inspired by The Fall, edited by Peter Wild, is an anthology where each story takes a Fall song as inspiration, published by Serpent’s Tail in association with the inaugural Manchester International Festival. For a long time fan of The Fall, it is difficult to come to Perverted by Language without expectations. Songs by The Fall often travel across time in an attempt to draw connections between past and present. They feature characters that are outlandish, but only because of their inability to connect with the world or to escape from their own private obsessions. Smith himself regularly takes on guises from which to mock or attack various deep-seated notions or preconceptions. An average Fall song initially seems like a cryptic riddle, or more often like a drunken man and a full band falling down the stairs, until, slowly, it unfolds like a handful of ripped notebook pages into something that seems to make sense. 

Closest to the queasy, bilious and overloaded reality of The Fall’s universe is the highlight of the anthology, Carlton Mellick III’s City Hobgoblins. Sad and intriguing, it is a tale of American punk kids living life in a city overrun by dangerous mutant lifeforms that have appeared from nowhere. Despite a setting far from Britain, it captures the surreal and dark sadness of The Fall’s mundane world where strange events eventually become humdrum and commonplace. 

Overall, the distinctiveness of the source material poses problems. While there are some strong stories in Perverted by Language, it’s hard not to feel short changed. Many of the stories seem to be related in title only to their musical namesakes. Given a band with such a recognisable and idiosyncratic body of work, there is an unresolved tension between producing a book that will satisfy fans of The Fall and one that stands as an anthology for readers without foreknowledge of the band. In a move confusing to many casual readers, the inclusion of an interesting portrait of the actual real-life Fall written by a fan who knew them during their early years only underlines the difficulty of pleasing both a specific and general audience. 

A feeling of compromise hangs over the book, as if a quick name change has shoehorned a number of pieces from the bottom drawer into the anthology, showing little imprint of the songs that inspired them in tone, subject or execution. Mick Jackson’s contribution is the worst offender; a vague, listless story about a hallucination after being spiked that squanders its source material, Totally Wired, a song about a person so over-stimulated that they can do nothing but explode. 

A number of other contributions feel stale and underdeveloped, often falling back upon shock effects for their endings. Exceptions are Stav Sherez’s God Box and Steve Aylett’s The Man Whose Head Expanded. Sherez’s God Box is an excellent story about a Holocaust denying academic haunted by phonecalls from a distressed young Jewish woman. Reminiscent of J G Ballard, a series of clear and precise images advance to an unexpected conclusion that persists long after reading. Aylett’s story, in typical hyperactive style, manages to render in words the detailed and stylised effects of anime, with eye-popping results.

Sadly, considered overall, Perverted by Language is a bitty and unsatisfying anthology. Too long by far, it seems have been hamstrung by the need to be accessible and inclusive while also remaining true to its esoteric subject matter, culminating in a book that manages to please neither Fall aficionados nor short story fans.

From Newcastle-upon-Tyne,  Mark Brown now lives in south-east London. His work has appeared in Punk Planet, Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Transmission, Pen Pusher, Skive and Irk amongst others. He is editor of One in Four magazine (www.oneinfourmag.org). He can be contacted at markbrown1977@googlemail.com.

Mark's other Short Reviews: Ali Smith "Other Stories & Other Stories"

Carys Davies "Some New Ambush"
 

  
 




















PublisherSerpent's Tail

Publication Date: June 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?:  No

Authors: Steve Aylett, Matt Beaumont, Nicholas Blincoe, Clare Dudman, Richard Evans, Michel Faber, Niall Griffiths, Andrew Holmes, Mick Jackson, Nick Johnstone, Stewart Lee, Kevin MacNeil, Carlton Mellick III, Rebbecca Ray, Nicholas Royle, Matthew David Scott, Stav Sherez, Nick Stone, Matt Thorne, Jeff VanderMeer, Helen Walsh, Peter Wild, John Williams

Editor: Peter Wild

Editor bio: Peter Wild is the co-author of Before the Rain (Flax Books) and the editor of The Flash, Perverted by Language: Fiction inspired by The Fall & (forthcoming from Serpent's Tail) The Empty Page: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth.  

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What other reviewers thought:

BBC Collective

The Independent

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The Telegraph