BOOK REVIEW: DISCOVERING SCARFOLK / AUTHOR: RICHARD LITTLER / PUBLISHER: EBURY / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 16TH
There was a time in British history in which the outside world seemed terribly sinister, everything was falling apart and people were frequently cold and hungry. Worse still, if you believe the photos of the time, everything had a washed out, sepia-like tinge to it that made it all the more depressing. This time was the 1970’s, and it provides a backdrop to the creepy yet hilarious world of Scarfolk, an English town that has been forsaken by all things, including reality itself.
The 192-page hardback novel Discovering Scarfolk started out as a satirical blog created by graphic designer Richard Littler. Cleverly twisted info-graphics evoked a forgotten little English town called Scarfolk, a sort of hideous cross between The Wicker Man’s Summerisle and The League of Gentleman’s Royston Vasey. Filled to the brim with old-fashioned style graphics, the website pokes fun at the creepy and hyperbolic public information posters from the ‘70s and ‘80s, adding a monstrous twist to the entire affair. Often what seems funny on the internet doesn’t quite work when it’s transferred into a paper and ink format, but Littler’s approach has been to wrap all of these splendidly produced pictures into a decidedly odd narrative, peppering the text with strange graphic, after even stranger graphic.
The result is a multi-layered narrative. On the face of it, Discovering Scarfolk is a hilarious novel filled with so-creepy-it’s funny illustrations and a relentlessly silly back story. The puns are thick and fast throughout and it’s also filled with pretty puerile humour. Scratch the surface a bit more and we get a much sharper parody of life in a British town. Satirical digs at local councils, media and religious groups form an essential part of the story. Dig even further, and you realise that the entire thing is a well-deserved and cunningly observed parody of modern Britain, reminiscent of Jonathan Swift at times. Those who are easily offended are firmly warned to stay away; the humour is quite dark and is not for the easily disturbed or for self-appointed moral guardians.
The text itself is a conspiracy story detailing the tale of missing children and the growing insanity of the book’s protagonist. Littler takes the time to put the boot into various conspiracy theories as well and the text itself becomes increasingly strange and paranoid. The images increase in their oddness and the result is a relentlessly funny yet rather disturbing experience. The discomfort simply makes the gags funnier and the result is a book that is genuinely laugh out loud funny but also makes you wonder what is wrong with you. The laughter will stay with you for some time, as will the commentary.
If you have a taste for the macabre and strange, or simply wish that there was a thoroughly English version of Welcome to Nightvale, then you should check out Discovering Scarfolk. Be warned however; you can check out Scarfolk any time you like, but you can never leave.