Review by Rachel Kendall
Phil Doran is a writer who obviously loves language. He also has a very dry sense of humour. Marry the two and you get Spaghetti Fiction, now in its second volume and I hear a third is on the way. SF2 carries on in the same vein as its prequel, with a crashing together of ideas, characters, chronology, gender and political correctness to create an absolute chaos, held together tightly by clever narrative. With volume 2 we get ninety, yes, 90, short stories, which is a lot to fit between the covers, but these stories are not long. The shortest is probably 200 words, most of them around two pages. They are more like writing exercises, tongue twisters, piano practice like Chopin's Minute Waltz - energetic, fast-paced, wild, and thoroughly entertaining.
Strange, thought Marx. Engels never normally telephones until the late 1870's when it's cheaper.
The Great Intervention of The Telephone
That's not to say these stories are all style over substance. Not at all. But they don't necessarily have plot as their driving force either. They are more like little bursts of political and grammatical gun fire.
I once showed Gerald Gordon's copy of Lenin's New Economic Policy and Anarchism or Left-Communism: An Infantile Disorder, but my father said he never read fiction. Instead his daily newspaper habit helped him sustain every single prejudice he ever had on women, the command economies, sexuality, the word penultimate instead of the last but one, and other preciosities like zeitgeist, ersatz, eponymous, post-modern irony and schadenfreude - language he loathed with a passion bordering on the criminal. So it was a surprise when he said he wanted to become Geraldine.
Doran writes about what he knows in an Absurdist way. He is the Alfred Jarry of the nineties, the noughties and beyond, pooling together facets from every part of the normal, humdrum existence most of us share into a surreal-tinted socio-political vacuum. He writes about writing (A sense of irony would help, but I've spilled it all over the page. Now where did I put that kitchen sink drama about an andropausal writer on a strict word count with a misogynist grudge and an ending problem? Sick Sense), and what pushes him to write (culture, media, politics [including titles like Suicide Bombing is Painless and Baghdad Taxi]). Sometimes he merges the two:
The Professor's personalised anti-personnel mine exploded uniquely into a thousand little nano-narratives that came together into one mushroom cloud of over-ambition. A blot on the sub-literary landscape. It hung there in the air. On the shelf. Under the desk. Up the wall. In his pants. Onto his screen saver. Into cyberspace. And beyond.
Stand-Up For English
One thing that stands out with Doran's writing, and this collection in particular, is his eye for detail. Whether it's the kind to brings the deadpan to life with a humorous jolt:
For his barrister, it wasn't the first time a case had been fabricated, but it was the first occasion on which one had been largely based on his own conventionally deviant sexual practices. John Blessed, the stentorian, Burberry wax-coated, pin-stripe-suited, 58-year-old, father-of-two defence barrister with more traditional values than you could shake a black leather stick at always wore red socks and a cock ring in the courtroom.
Four O'Clock Opening
Or the minutiae that adds volumes:
He had a gold tooth. The only break in the purpleness of his face.
South of the River This Time Of Night
Of the ninety stories, I do have my favourites. Of course there are plenty I love and plenty I like and some that didn't do it for me at all. Sometimes Doran can be a little difficult to read. Sometimes his fiction is a little hard-going. What's a typo and what's an intentional misspelling? It's not dissimilar to acquainting yourself with Trainspotting or A Clockwork Orange. In a way you have to get used to the Doranisms. The Doranesqueness of it all. I admit there were a couple of stories I started to read and didn't continue you with, for instance What the Dickens and The Occasional Barber of Prada because they were written in dialect and Mail Storm for its text speak. Not to mention the Dr Seuss homage Medicare is Hondled by the Grucks. But that's okay, with 86 other pieces to read I wasn't going to let something like this put me off. And then we come to my favourite, The Angel of the Nord which I feel is Doran at his poetic best:
Her face looks sad… She has an exhaust trail down her left cheek. She doesn't look back at Peter. His gaze gets more intense as he scans her body for more detail. She is unaware of the attention. Without looking down he picks at the detritus of his croissant; the slithers and crumbs have formed a scrap yard on his serviette.
Doran has taken the name of a piece of contemporary art and played with it, shifted it from Newcastle to Paris. This is the moving story of a certain kind of unrequited love. It's almost Proustian, which is about the only French author he doesn't mention!
He often uses real characters, historical and contemporary, the people it's easiest to rip the piss out of, like politicians. He might mention Engels, Marx, Lenin, an unnamed American President or two, Gordon Brown, Charles Dickens, William Burroughs and Rasputin among others. But then, they're not always actual people. He plays around with points of view and likes to bring inarticulate objects to life. William Burroughs, for example, in the story of the same name, is actually an umbrella. There are also fictions written from the pov of a gun, a piece of French toast, a dog etc.
The thinner of the Frankfurters, bathed in eau de Cologne, considered the German chancellor's stance vis-à-vis the American-Belgian Waffles crisis with the curious detachment of a captain of industry at three removes away from the Munich beer hall putsch of 1923.
A Continental Dog's Breakfast
And observations. His observations are quite wonderful and one can't help but question if his characters are tricky little beasts direct from his imagination, or if he's met these people in 'real' life. He has, after all, been around. According to his bio, Doran has been 'an English teacher, performance poet and writer, stand-up comedian, administrator of the chronically sick and disabled persons act, yoghurt maker, home loans repayment officer, busker, co-editor of Tenerife Holiday Magazine, fireplace salesman, delivery driver, traffic counter, envelope stuffer, electoral register officer, proof reader, homeless persons unit advisor, barman, street trader, bingo caller, Crown Prosecution Service photocopier, quiz night organizer, Unemployed claimant, Chupa Chup Lollipops ninja figure and a pretend trainee solicitor in a fraud case at Snaresbrook Crown Court.' Though probably not all at the same time.
One of the stories in this collection ends on a note that I feel sums up Doran and his Spaghetti Fiction. It seems fitting to end this review on the same note:
YOU HAVE BEEN READING A PARTY POLITICAL FORECAST ON BEHALF OF THE SOCIALIST SURREALIST PARTY
Yah Boo! Sucks