Talent issue - the novelist: Joe Stretch

Boyd Tonkin
Saturday 29 December 2007 01:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Like many sulphurous satirists before him, Manchester musician-turned-novelist Joe Stretch skewers the present and the recent past by imagining a grotesque future.

Born in 1982, Stretch studied politics at Manchester University, and joined the eclectic electro-pop quartet Performance as vocalist and lyricist. He's still attached to the university as a participant in the creative-writing programme headed by Martin Amis. And Amis, of all people, should appreciate the incendiary blast of sensuality and savagery that hisses off the pages of Stretch's debut novel, Friction (published by Vintage on 4 March).

In fact, the twisted and dystopian sexuality of Michel Houellebecq's novels may strike readers of Friction as a more direct influence than Amis. Here, Houellebecq does Manchester: the buzzing bars of Castlefield, Withington and the Northern Quarter become killing-grounds of love and hope as Stretch's pleasure-hunting, joy-deprived quintet of characters flee from the pain of being human, and aspire to the condition of feeling-free sex-machines.

Stretch's science-fiction frame adds a frisson of horror to this tale, but the heart of Friction lies in its not-too-exaggerated vision of a culture of sensation-hungry escapism. Raw, wild, aflame with ideas, Friction will bring a kill-or-cure medicinal shock to our post-boom hangover.

Portrait by Ged Murray

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