GIGANTIC by Ashley Stokes
Unsung Stories, pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Stephen Frame
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it might be like inside the head of a 5G mast burning, flat earthing, aliens walk among us, anti-vaxxing, card-carrying conspiracy theorist, you should read GIGANTIC. Even if you don’t, you should still read GIGANTIC. It’s a sublime piece of work.
Its premise is suitably bonkers. There are nine-foot-tall relict hominids with glowing red eyes prowling the countryside of the London Borough of Sutton – the North Surrey Gigantopithecus. And it’s the job of the Gigantopithecus Intelligence Team, a.k.a ‘The GIT,’ to prove to the world ‘Giganto’ is real.
One-third of the GIT is Kevin Stubbs, the main character of the story. Kevin is a broken, wounded man, lost in his obsession, an obsession that nurtures and sustains him, even as it burns down everything that might be worth something in his life. GIGANTIC seems to be getting pitched as a humorous novel. It is very funny throughout, sometimes subtle, sometimes making you laugh in an appalled way. But at its heart, it’s a tragic story. It’s down to the skill of the author that he manages to keep these two threads taut and intertwined throughout.
Kevin is portrayed with polished brilliance. His is the voice of the intelligent but uneducated man. The story is told almost entirely from Kevin’s point of view, switching between the GIT’s current investigation into recent video footage of the Banstead Bigfoot and his life leading up to this final investigation, when the truth, finally, will be revealed and all that is wrong in his world will be made right. In the course of reporting on the investigation, the wreckage of Kevin’s life is laid out in heart-rending detail.
The monster here isn’t the Gigantopithecus; it’s Kevin’s obsession and the way it fills every niche in his life. Kevin is self-aware enough to know his hunt for Giganto is what stands between him and his estranged wife and child. His obsession is so all-consuming, he thinks it will also bring them back to him. Kevin is a sympathetic character; you’ll find yourself rooting for him throughout. You’ll also find yourself wishing he would open his eyes and see more clearly.
It’s a tightly written story, never wandering far from its centre; the counter-point of funny and tragic makes it a compelling read. And it’s as British as HP Sauce. The third act of the story brings reveal after reveal, as Kevin comes ever closer to bringing Giganto to the world and winning back his family. The endpoint, when it comes, makes perfect sense.
There are a few points where narrative stumbles: the obscure references to the British comic, “2000 AD,” will baffle some readers. The garbled English of Kevin’s Ukrainian wife comes across as clunky and unrealistic. There is a slight sag in the middle, where the story seems to lose some of its momentum, but these are minor issues in what is otherwise a fine book.