by Ellis Sharp
First collection? No
Ellis Sharp is an
experimental British writer,
based in London. He is the author of ten books of absurdist
metafiction, distinguished by their dense, allusive prose and their
interest in re-imagining themes from history, literature and cinema,
sometimes from a radical socialist perspective..
with Ellis Sharp
reassuring rubble of the refuse
lorry as it enters our street, its stout rubber-gloved crew whistling
cheerfully as they pick up the heaped black bulging sacks of rubbish
and toss them, one after the other, again and again and again, into the
dirty grinding jaws of the ceaselessly turning crusher at the back."
Reviewed by Jason Makansi
If you don’t have several of the following, get them before you tackle
• An immense vocabulary, preferably including professional and academic
jargon from fields such as medicine, history, and psychology.
• Some knowledge of the geography of London and England
A recent reading or rereading and appreciation of such writers as
Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Joseph Heller, or Jonathan Swift
• A refresher on the absurdist movement in theatre
• Patience for streams of consciousness that turn into raging rivers
• A distaste for obvious narrative, plot, or traditional story
• A fondness for ideas that jump around like the steel ball in a
Even three or four of these may not be enough. Or, you’ll have to read
these stories more than once.
The beginning of the last paragraph of the introduction by MacDonald
Daly sets the stage:
is very curious to write about an author whose talent is such that one
considers he should have a large audience when, in fact, the number of
those who appreciate his work is infinitesimally small."
doubt that Daly may be correct when he ends with, "There is certainly
no contemporary British writer quite like him." That can mean a host of
I have a rule of thumb about writing of any kind. I call it the law of
concentric circles of meaning. If I don’t "get" it on some level the
first read, the likelihood of my returning for a new level of meaning
and enjoyment is close to zero. I suspect Daly knows that, and so does
Mr. Sharp himself. He’s writing for a narrow slice of the short story
readership, in itself pretty damn slender. For my part, I didn’t "get"
most of what I read. I got an idea where Sharp is going with his
stories, but I didn’t have the patience to stick with him.
like satire of the Catch-22 variety, when there is no problem following
the story and enjoying the humor. You can probably figure out where
Sharp is heading from a few of the story titles: Dead Iraqis, Lenin’s Trousers, An Interview with Nietzsche’s Moustache,
and Tympoptanomania. No
question, it is satire and even absurdist, in some cases horrific (see
the short quote above from Dead
Iraqis), in some cases more mild skewering of the academic
classes (Nietzsche’s Moustache).
And I found many of the sentences funny and unique.
hour went by dragging a sheet of dusk behind it." "His teeth were as
white as the cuttlefish which littered Bognor beach at low tide."
But I don’t think I have the appropriate level of attention deficit
disorder for Mr. Sharp’s prose.
When I got to the story, Rag,
I was angry at Mr. Sharp. Not only does this story demonstrate how
lyrically he can write when he wants to, I have to confess that after
about the second page I could not stop my mouth from reading out loud.
Now that’s when you know there’s a powerful voice! Thank God I was
outside and my kids didn’t think I was going nuts. This story has a
motif that ties it together, a rhythm that moves it along, a narrator
that acts as a camera-man would in filming the story, and a main
character that goes to visit a site in a movie he loved when he was
much younger. These are real story elements. And yet, I would not
classify this as a traditional story by any stretch. It has a unique
way of being told. I loved it and admired Mr. Sharp’s skills richly
Maybe a little more of Rag
would save Mr. Sharp from an infinitesimally small audience?
writes that Sharp’s politics are scalding and up-front, he makes
"literary demands" on his readers, his "modicum of acknowledgement is
long overdue." He’s certainly demanding but I’m not sure it’s of the
literary variety but more in the vein of someone feigning a modicum of
insanity. Perhaps that’s intriguing enough for others, though, so that
"infinitesimal" swells a bit?