Review: La Squab / Author: David Britton / Art: Kris Guidio / Format: Hardback / Publisher: Savoy Books / Release Date: April 16th
The blurb for La Squab reads thus. La Squab by David Britton represents a departure from the author's reputation as the creator of Lord Horror, the last novel to be banned in Britain. Masquerading as a book for children, the primary inspirations of La Squab are The Wind in the Willows—if Grahame's classic had been re-written by Adolf Hitler!
I have to admit, I was intrigued. The book sounded different, subversive with a fair chance of some dark humour, so I jumped at the chance to review it.
When the book arrived, I was delighted. Instead of a standard paperback, the book was an illustrated hardcover, with marvellously detailed pen and ink drawings on every other page, and included an audio CD that had Fenella Fielding (from Carry on Screaming, among other things) reading sections of the book. The whole thing was beautifully crafted and looked very impressive.
Then I started to read it.
I got to the end of the first chapter, sat back and tried to process what I’d just read. The book was bad. Worse than bad, it was appalling. Not in a “goodness me, that’s controversial” way, or even “oooh, that’s taking things too far” way. I mean bad in the “What on earth is this pile of garbage I’m reading, and what the hell just happened in that first chapter?” way.
I started to doubt myself. Maybe I wasn’t getting it. I put the book down and read The Wind in the Willow to see if the author was trying to make some sort of stylistic statement. He wasn’t.
I re-read the first chapter, while listening to the wonderfully produced audio recording to see if it made any kind of sense hearing it out loud. It didn’t, and in fact, the audio recording veered away from the text in the book around 30 minutes in, giving the impression that several pages of the novel had been deleted in some terrible editing error.
Frustrated, I started the book again and ploughed through it through sheer force of will, in the hope that something approaching a plot might develop or that I might be able to understand what on earth the author was going on about. Eventually I got to the end, and came to the following conclusion.
La Squab may very well be the worst book I have ever read in my life. And I’ve read Relentless by Dean Koontz.
There is nothing approaching a plot, and very little that even seems to connect the chapters. One minute Lord Horror and Squab are floating down the Thames, arguing with a carnivorous waterwheel over it having eaten some mermaids, the next they are in New Orleans, slitting the throats of Creole waiters for daring to have hopes and dreams.
The writing is of the standard you would expect if a hyperactive and deranged eight year old tried to write a novel using only a thesaurus and magic mushrooms for guidance. The point of view switches between characters, often in the middle of the same paragraph, usually going from third person to first person at the same time. New characters start talking without introduction or any previous mention, so it’s a struggle to know who is speaking. Straightforward sentences are obscured with the most awful, pretentious, flowery language and the characters often go off on long narrative speeches that serve no purpose whatsoever.
The book even fails to be controversial. There are smatterings of casual racism, pro-Nazi sentiment, gross imagery and deviant sexual acts, but to be honest, most of it is drowning in so much overwritten nonsense that you have too much of a hard time working out what was just said, or what was going on to take offence.
In essence, my emotional response to this book started off at excited, then went through confused, into bored and ended up at annoyed that I’d wasted four hours of my life on it.
Is it all bad? Well, the illustrations are nice, and a couple of the little poems and songs raised a little smile. And after a while, you realise that all of those lovely pictures are little more than padding, to make a 150 page book look like a 300 page book. This is a good thing, because I only had to wade through 150 pages of this rubbish.
Oh yes. I forgot to mention the price. This book will set you back the not inconsiderable sum of £25.
Don’t all rush at once.