‘So here’s the bottom line, Barny. Why do I need you? What sets you apart from the mass of people?’
‘A shrapnel scar on my spine the colour of banana talks to me at night, filling the room with whispers.’
Verbal frowned a moment. ‘Well by god that’s the best answer I ever heard.’
What a cruel joke life is. I saw this slim, docile looking novel on a shelf and I thought to myself, ‘this will be a nice palate cleanser after the wordy roughage of hobbits and elven poetry …only 133 pages? Sure that’s a doddle’.
Now dear reader, I find myself rocking back and forth on the living room chair, scrubbing my eyeballs with my fists, crying out ‘What! What was that! I don’t understand….my brain is melted…’
Needless to say, Only An Alligator is a very strange book. I will attempt to describe the plot, but I fear my facility with language has completely deserted me and booked a holiday somewhere saner. Barny Juno resides in the city known as Accomplice. He wants nothing more than to be happy and befriend all the ‘winged and stepping animals of the earth’. His home is a menagerie of vicious wildlife and rumours surround a suspected colony of eight hundred eels living in his garden. He also has strange friends, including a dinosaur fetishist nicknamed Round One and a scarecrow (or possibly a zombie, the data is confusing on this point) called Edgy who is desperate to join a secret society known as the Patently Damaging Sports Club. Accomplice itself is a metropolis stranded on the banks of some weird etheric realm of demons and ghosts. I think. I am not entirely clear on that point.
One day Barny finds an alligator caught in the walls of what is called a ‘creepchannel’. He rescues the animal and brings it home, naming it Mister Newton. He gives all his animal charges names, although his attempted funeral for a former pet was an unmitigated disaster, as he accidentally dropped his trousers during the eulogy. Anyway, it turns out this alligator was being fattened as a snack for a demon named Sweeney. Infuriated at this brazen theft, he orders his lieutenant Dietrich Hammerwire to find the thief Barny Juno and kill him. Or seriously inconvenience him. Either way, Sweeney wants results. Dietrich has his doubts about the assignment, as he quickly begins to wonder if Barny really is the genius his master believes him to be. As far as he can tell, the man is an unbelievable fool.
The experience of reading this book feels like sitting in a room with a sadistic madman who has shoved Flann O’Brien’s At Swim Two Birds, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Alex Cox’s Repo Man into a blender and then, with a wicked grin, flicked the on-switch. I felt like I was stuck back in William Burrough’s Interzone, somehow beached on a nightmarish inverted sephirot. I have no idea what this book is about. Frankly I did not understand half the sentences in this book.
It did make me laugh though. A lot. With a slight manic giggle at the end of each outburst. Sweeney’s rivalry with Barny becomes the principal concern of a mayoral election campaign, much to the bewildered hero’s confusion. Aylett somehow manages the proceedings with a deadpan sense of humour and gargled imagery. I would attempt to identify the plot as a political satire, but that would be missing the larger point I am sure. Get back to me in a few months when I have figured out what that is.
In short, if you are the sort of person who enjoys having their brains leak out of their nose due to the effort of reading, this is the book for you! If you are, on the contrary, a sane and respectable member of society I advise you to run, not walk, as far as possible from Mr Aylett. Maybe join a nunnery for a month or so, just to be safe.
It is too late for me I’m afraid.