High John the Conqueror by Jim Younger

Stuff happens, but not a lot goes on
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Lingus, meanwhile, has been staying at the Refuge, a community arts centre run by Wenceslas Razumski, whose wife Jude has scarpered due to his inability to consummate their marriage. She and Lingus have been enjoying some moments of intimacy, as a result of which Jude becomes pregnant. Wence, in the meantime, has impregnated another, younger woman. Jude seeks refuge from the Refuge at the Convent of the Ever-Open Wounds of Christ the King Crucified, just off the Kennington Road.

There's certainly a lot going on, despite the fact that very little happens in this rambunctious, rollicking, yet lightly spun yarn. Or, perhaps more accurately: stuff happens, but there's not a great deal actually going on. It would be an exaggeration to say there's a strong, compelling narrative to the novel, and yet it's a very quick and very easy read. It's described by its publishers as a dark comedy, and there are gags, but they're not the kind that make you laugh. It's comedic in a mechanical sense and, while never really funny, it is a lot of fun. It reads a bit as if Simon Louvish and Michael Moorcock had got together to try to produce something that would be a perfect synthesis of their respective styles and manners of approach - and didn't quite succeed, but came up with something interestingly different.

Nevertheless, the book this reminds one of more than any other is Moorcock's 2000 novel King of the City, a hugely enjoyable read and a fine piece of work while not in the same league as his masterpiece, Mother London, the novel to which it was a sequel.

Younger writes with great vigour and playfulness. His characters are richly and vividly drawn, none more so than hard-drinking, drug-addled Tatum Liotes, US citizen and Poet Laureate, who becomes Lingus's employer when the teenager accepts a position as his amanuensis. And there are memorable scenes, not least when a choleric plague strikes a prison ship: "Cardboard coffins are a bad idea. The frozen stiffs are beginning to melt in the heat." The crew begin hoisting coffins over the side of the boat. "A brown stain spreads quickly along the bottom of the box and it begins to sag." Fetid, energetic and undisciplined, full of dirty, chaotic life - and death.