The Outgoing Man, by Glen Neath

Kafka lite, or a rambling story with a punchline that never comes

Sound familiar? Yes, The Outgoing Man is a rerun of The Trial, Kafka lite, almost completely shorn of any obvious purpose other than to take the reader on an entertaining journey through the vaguely conscious mind of its central, unnamed figure.

Technically, the novel consists of two "postcards" sent by a former "outgoing man" from some sort of safe house to an "incoming man" who has supplanted him, and who is in the process of being supplanted himself.

Almost nothing is made of this framing device. There are no chapters in the two monologues, just pauses. It's like being stuck in a lift with a deadpan comedian, waiting for a punchline that never comes. You have to keep going, or you risk losing any grip.

None the less, Neath is a promising writer. His nameless narrator - thick in the way that Gus is thick in Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, which the situation of the novel sometimes resembles - is a genuine creation. His bewildered, slightly embarrassed account of events, particularly of a cack-handed attempt at seduction, is very cleanly and clearly rendered, and there are some nice, surreal turns of phrase ("my lungs were folded up and stuffed into the top of my shirt").

Once it is clear that the novel is going nowhere in particular, it's enjoyable as a parody of almost every Kafka-Pinter nightmare you have ever read. Instead of satirising the faceless, featureless environments - and Neath is good at erasing the background, which is a difficult stunt to pull off - The Outgoing Man concentrates on making mock of its narrator.

The fun here is in following the bumbling brain-waves of the speaker. This is not a novel from which you will learn anything: it's peculiarly pointless, all surface, enjoying itself by subverting the genre and testing itself with a little experiment at the end.

Artful and cheerily disposable, it might be called "Who cares what happened to Joseph K?" That's the 21st century for you.

Bill Greenwell's new collection of parodies, 'Spoof', is published by Entire Photo Here

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