Jim Giraffe by Daren King

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

Daren King's Boxy an Star was one of the most original first novels of the last decade. Written in the inarticulate, but highly distinctive, voice of its drug-addled protagonist, it offers a dsytopian vision of a lost generation, one which literally can't see beyond the next pill. Funny, touching and charged with a linguistic intensity that verges on poetry, it provoked the kind of reviews that most first novelists can only dream of.

Five years on, he's burst back into fiction with something even stranger. "I have of late been visited by a ghost giraffe" the novel begins, catapulting us instantly into the wilder reaches of King's crazed imagination. The giraffe, called Jim, "steps out nightly from the wardrobe... sometimes with a pair of underpants on his head" and announces to Scott Spectrum, the novel's narrator, that he's going to play him a video. It's the start of a less than beautiful friendship, in which Jim, foul-mouthed, uncouth and with breath that smells "like treetops", launches a dialogue about sex that runs for the book's 200-odd pages. His brand of humour, ranging from the obscene to the scatological, can only be described as puerile.

From this barking-mad beginning, King takes us on a journey from innocence to experience, where the child-like Scott, inventor of the hit TV show Space Man in Space, undergoes a number of (extremely) rude awakenings. These include a sudden diagnosis of brain cancer, which can only, he is informed, be cured by performing every act in the lovemaker's lexicon. He is delighted when, after a single sexual encounter on the beach, his wife Continence becomes pregnant. He is less delighted when, on the night that Jim shoots to TV stardom with his All New Jim Giraffe Variety Show, she gives birth to "a bouncing baby giraffe".

It's extremely hard to analyse or describe the magic of this extraordinary work. I started off hating it and wrote fierce notes in the margin such as "this slap-stick surreal- ism leaves me cold". Soon, mystifyingly, my pursed lips were slipping into a smile and then yelps of helpless laughter. King has an uncanny ability to suck the reader into a fictional landscape that bears a strong resemblance to ours, but with a few judicious, and discombobulating, twists. It's a dreamscape in which the characters are largely parodies of stereotypes - Tum the Single Mum, Harry Maker, the TV mogul - floating surreally in and out of the action.

Scott, like Bole in Boxy an Star, has a Candide-like naivety that gives rise to statements of breathtaking, and deceptive, simplicity. This includes the repetition of a number of verbal tropes, some of which - "in the name's defence", "in my genitalia's defence" etc - are just plain irritating. Others, like Scott's penchant for specific adjectives which always precede the same nouns, like "high-tech birthing chair" and "alien-shaped slippers", have a cumulative effect that is weirdly mesmerising. This adds to the sense of an imaginative world that's mediated through the consciousness of an unreliable, but strangely endearing, narrator.

Jim Giraffe is a brilliant, funny, unforgettable book, one that explodes taboos - on race and disability as well as sex - in a way that's fresh and fearless. Daren King may be mad or in the grip of some major hallucinogens. Or perhaps he's just extremely talented.

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