My Goat Ate Its Own Legs, By Alex Burrett

Reviewed,Brandon Robshaw
Sunday 18 January 2009 01:00

You know there's something unusual about this book as soon as you pick it up – someone seems to have taken a bite out of the bottom right-hand corner. And this is a fair indication of the oddness of the stories within. Or rather, not stories, but, as the blurb insists, tales.

These are not literary productions with all the ingredients of the well-crafted short story. (I feel fairly safe in asserting that Alex Burrett has never been near a creative writing class in his life.) These are yarns. Told in a conversational, buttonholing style, they tend to start with some outrageous hook: "During childhood, one of my best friends was a stone"; "A friend of mine dated Death"; "Met God's ex-wife once"; "The Devil is offering holidays in Hell"; "I knew a bloke who ate his children".

That's not so hard to do, but what's remarkable is that the rest of the yarn is never an anti-climax. Burrett's imagination just keeps spinning and spinning, so that the end of the tale is usually even weirder than the beginning. There is a tale about a new kind of paint which makes everything it touches irresistibly beautiful; a tale about reaching the edge of the universe; a tale about a man who gave up speaking for ever after shouting out "twat!" in the mountains and hearing the multiple echo of his own "twatty voice"; and, of course, the tale about the goat that ate its own legs and thenceforth had to paddle about on a raft on a pond.

Burrett's imagination is as fertile as that of Jorge Luis Borges's, and he's more readable, and funnier. One faint criticism is that the book is poorly proofread, with typos and punctuation errors throughout. But that hardly distracts from the pleasure of reading these 31 tales, which are as moreish as pistachio nuts, and much more substantial.

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