Friction, By Joe Stretch

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The Independent Culture

Friction is about six characters in contemporary-ish Manchester who've all been deadened after too much stimulation and by consumerism's false promises. (Even its narrator, who is in a cell somewhere in a totalitarian future, can't always be bothered to explain things. Peripheral characters are designated Boy 1 or Girl 2; he tells us that "they blah-blah for a bit", and to do the job of imagining it for ourselves.) Still, animal urges remain, so these characters embark on an adventure into libertinism and depravity. Justin, who formalises the plan, thinks of it as an experiment. He wants to save us all by discovering "brand new ways of having sex". He's young – early 20s – so doesn't realise that it's all been tried before: by Sade, obviously, but also in strikingly similar ways, by the characters in JG Ballard's 1960s and 1970s books such as Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition. Justin and his accomplices go to an event called "Fuck Power", a masked orgy wherein the masks are of famous world leaders. Carly discovers a new electro-mechanical sex toy and sets about pleasuring herself to death. The experiment that goes the most wrong – recreational abortion – is, though, so far as I'm aware, entirely of their own devising.

Joe Stretch's prose is a rhythmic jumble of aphorisms and when he writes about the flesh words join together in surprising, pleasing new ways. "Breasts look like halogen lights under water" and "Johnny's brain is a sex milkshake." First time novelists frequently set out to shock – and these days invariably fail – but Stretch isn't one of them. As depraved as it gets, Friction is a caustic comedy, and doesn't mark the arrival of a new provocateur but of a promising satirist.