Reviews | Written by Paul Mount 25/10/2019

BEYOND KIDDING

BEYOND KIDDING / PUBLISHER: FAIRLIGHT BOOKS / AUTHOR: LYNDA CLARK / RELEASE DATE: 31ST OCTOBER

Beyond Kidding is a very strange proposition indeed; it’s also one of the most remarkable and quirky works of new fiction you’re likely to read this year, should you choose to take a punt on this first novel by a new writer from a comparatively untried new publishing house.

Much of Beyond Kidding reads like one of those post-Nick Hornby ‘lad-lit’ books which proliferated in the late 1990s, largely comic stories of pre-millennial blokes being blokey and worshipping at the altar of Men Behaving Badly. The fact that Beyond Kidding – full of swearing, bodily function references and blokes being entirely unreconstructed and motivated by the needs of their bellies and their genitals – is written by a woman is, if nothing else, an example of the blurring of the societal lines and how much things have changed since the arrival of lad and ladette culture more than twenty years ago.

Rob Buckland is a bit of a mess. He’s not exactly a loser but he’s definitely an underachiever. He’s drifting through life, living in a pokey flat surrounded by sci-fi action figures and computer games and he works in his friend’s sex shop (“The Empornium”). His friend’s nickname is Bummer, by the way. Yes, that’s right… Bummer. Rob decides that it’s time to make a change, so he applies for a job with a credit card company. During his interview, to make himself sound more interesting he makes up an imaginary son. His little white lie rapidly gathers steam and he finds himself forced to concoct an entire life story and background for his non-existent offspring. Eventually, finding the lie exhausting to maintain, he pretends that the fruit of his loins has been kidnapped in the hope that when the child inevitably never reappears, he can be consigned to history and Rob can get on with his life. What he doesn’t expect is that the police will suddenly inform him that they’ve found his son and Rob is quickly reunited – or united for the first time – with a boy who looks exactly like the Photoshopped image he created to support his lie. But who is this strange, dark-eyed child called Brodie? Is he, as Rob suspects, a pod person or an alien lizard-creature in human form?

Beyond Kidding will strike a chord with anyone who read books by the like of Mil Millington, Mike Gayle and Dominic Holland back in the 1990s. It’s frequently laugh out loud funny, occasionally a bit gross and even, at times, quite poignant. Lynda Clark has absolutely nailed the good-natured loutishness that characterised the best ‘lad-lit’ and suffused it with a sense of mystery and intrigue. Thanks to a narrative device that has the story told by Rob in both the first person as he recounts the telling of it to his workmate / potential squeeze Jules and the third as he actually allows the story to unfold, we’re not entirely sure if Rob is mad or dreaming or living through some bizarre hallucination. The last few chapters take us into some very surreal places and we still can’t be quite sure if Rob is an unreliable narrator or a man trying to make sense of a close encounter of an extraordinary familial kind.

Beyond Kidding will make you laugh, it might make you shed a little tear and it’ll almost certainly make you stop and think. At the very least it’s a bold and confident debut, wittily-written, well-observed, full of surprises and almost impossible to second guess.