Tuesday 12 March 2013

My Elvis Blackout - Simon Crump

'The long dream is over'

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Hurrah, I am now part of the 21st Century. Apparently. My main excitement on receiving one was that I would be able to take up Galley Beggar's Press on their kind offer of an e-book copy of Simon Crump's novel My Elvis Blackout. This novel has had an extraordinary life already as Crump mentions in a new afterword that comes with this edition. Iy has been 'a chapbook, a hardback, a trade paperback, a tee-shirt, a short film, a CD and even a band'. It has also at one point been reproduced in its entirety on an Elvis fansite attributed to a man named Jurgen. Now it is available again with a new introduction from Jon McGregor, a fantastic review from the ever-reliable Mr Self and a few quick words from me to support this short, fucked-up and truly unforgettable little gem.

How on earth to begin to describe this bizarre book? My Elvis Blackout comes as a series of short fictions or vignettes. Each features or is about Elvis in some way, shape or form but not the Elvis that we know. This Elvis comes in many guises and each story might be said to illuminate some facet of his character or some aspect of fame, celebrity, culture, indulgence, violence and death. To pinch the best line from John Self's review, 'it is a mirrorball made of highly polished razor blades, reflecting different aspects of the King'.

There is violence and absurdity on every other page and often at the same time (this after all is a novel in which Barbara Cartland's mutilated body is buried on only the second page and Chris de Burgh is murdered not just once but twice after coming back as a headless zombie). But then there are moments that are strangely affecting, perhaps all the more so coming as they do buried amongst so much mayhem. The chapter headed Elvis: Fat Fucked-Up Fool has an opening paragraph that shows perfectly the combination of madness and pathos.
His greatest fear was of being poor and he dwelled upon it constantly. He took handfuls of jewels and cash into the backyard at Graceland and buried them - little treasures to call upon should he find himself penniless. The guys would watch watch Elvis digging in the dark. He cut a pathetic figure as he grunted and sweated over a growing heap of earth, and they would laugh to see his white jump-suit soiled with mud, and they would laugh at this very sad, but nevertheless highly entertaining creature trying to ward off his worst nightmare, and they would laugh and laugh until the tears ran down their bloated piggy faces and down their fat pink necks and into their fancy silk shirts which Elvis had bought them all from Lansky brothers, because he loved them so.
That is a killer paragraph; seemingly throwaway and yet marked by an unforgettable image, biting comment and even an appeal for sympathy. Brilliant. Another example of the way this collection can unseat the reader comes near the end in a chapter titled, Yorkshire Elvis: Part Two. After all the violence that has preceded it, this story seems to augur something horrific when our hero waits for his wife to leave the house before getting out something secret from beneath the floorboards, especially when a missing girl is mentioned. But then Crump gives this particular incarnation of the King a secret you couldn't possibly expect and makes the story into something else entirely. It is hard to know what you might find as you go through the pages of this novel, and very hard to adequately describe the thrill and joy of reading a book that manages to be both silly and deadly serious at the same time, flippant and deadly; as volatile and entertaining a book as you're likely to read all year.


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