Lake of Urine by Guillermo Stitch
Sagging Meniscus Press, £12.99
Reviewed by John C Adams
I leapt at the chance to review this when it landed on the desk of our review coordinator. Remind yourself of the title, and you’ll understand why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. My only concern was: is this genre fiction? But we’ll come round to that in a while.
The book has a particularly striking cover, and that’s always one of the first things I notice. Inside, the paper quality was wonderful, and the layout was very precise. This was, physically speaking, a publication into which alot of care and love had been poured. That’s always an excellent beginning when approaching a new author’s work for the first time.
A reviewer generally provides a paragraph or two summarising the plot, but in this case my discussing its market placing is probably more helpful. It’s an absurdist piece of writing, so like many examples of that subgenre of humour the plot is really the least important thing about this book.
‘Lake of Urine’ is overtly literary and quite confident about that fact. Stitch’s style reminded me of all the usual suspects when it comes to modern comedy, especially that with a proudly intellectual feel: Nabokov, Garcia Marquez, Borges, Calvino, Chatwin. As I worked my way through its pages I concluded that this was a writer who knew his literary forebears and was probably quite conscious of their influence upon his writing. There was a considerable amount of self-awareness as a literary work, and for that reason I am going to go ahead and call it ‘postmodern’, even though one of the key features of that style of fiction (meta documents) was absent. That doesn’t matter like it used to because postmodernism continues to evolve. It was resolutely self-aware as a piece of art and triumphantly emphatic about that. Instead of meta-documents, the author utilised a structure known as ‘narrative design’ to good effect in creating that reflexive tone. I like narrative design, so it worked for me.
The absurdity was well handled throughout, which for a debut author is something that deserves genuine praise and makes the writer one to watch. I often feel that training to be a comedy writer is just like learning to become a ladies’ maid. It’s a highly skilled position that requires a double apprenticeship over many years, but the results are always impressive if you stick at it long enough to master both elements completely. Hairdressing and dressmaking; the art of writing and the craft of humour. Both professions require immense application.
So, where are we on genre fiction and why exactly did this book make its way to the desk of a British Fantasy Society reviewer? Well, despite my best endeavours to find something fantastical about this novel I was left empty handed because despite the similarities of style with Garcia Marquez and Borges there was no fantasy element at all that I could discern. I managed to locate something slender to pin the ‘fantasy’ label on when reading ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’, though Lord knows that wasn’t easy to find it was so slight! ‘Lake of Urine’ is, however, deftly delivered with skill and confidence, and is therefore well worth exploring. In short, if you read one absurdist literary comedy from a debut author this year make it this one because it was excellent. I can’t honestly pretend that it had any genre fiction content at all, but as I got into the book that ceased to matter to me and I simply enjoyed it for what it was.
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