This is the Ritual, by Rob Doyle
People who read Nietzsche don’t tend to end up very happy — that’s a take-home message from Rob Doyle’s short story collection This is the Ritual, even if it’s not quite the one that he intended. Doyle’s world is one populated by junkies, drifters, and burnouts, all of whom believe they have a novel gestating inside of them — even if getting it out into the world rips them apart, Alien-style.
The spectre of figures such as Nietzsche hang heavy on on Doyle’s stories, driving their denizens to the point of insanity. ‘On Nietzsche’ follows a young, disaffected man who discovers the philosopher in the toilets of a Post Office depot, and makes it his life’s mission to write on him, to the detriment of his health, his sanity, and his hygiene. ‘Martin Knows Me — The Lonely Struggle of David Haynes’ follows a similar trajectory, only beginning with a youthful flirtation with Martin Amis. Over and again, Doyle’s authors are drawn towards writers who feel the need to remind the world just how well they write, like moths to a proverbial flame.
The ur-Author in Doyle’s collection is Killian Turner, a whirlwind of sex, drugs, and Weltschmerz. Turner flees Ireland to live out every starving artist’s West Berlin fantasy, writing very little and imbibing rather a lot, believing himself to be the reincarnation of Georges Bataille. It’s a story of ludicrous excess, so ludicrous that it can only be bettered by the sudden realisation that Turner was real — the endless footnotes and nods towards academic propriety of ‘Exiled in the Infinite — Killian Turner, Ireland’s Vanished Literary Outlaw’ aren’t part of the trappings of pomo storytelling a la Foster Wallace, but are honest-to-god references.
It’s tempting to read Doyle’s stories as gross-out material plain and simple, tales of orgiastic excess, but to do so would be to ignore his finely crafted prose and keen eye for the intricacies of the human psyche, which shine through no matter how dark his subject matter.
Bloomsbury kindly provided me with a review copy of This is the Ritual.