Only An Alligator: Accomplice Book 1
by Steve Aylett
(Gollancz, £9.99, 133 pages, paperback, published 31 January 2002, ISBN 0-57506-906-6.)
Except for Steve Aylett's wonderful article on The Caterer, a cult '70s comic that tragically happens to have never existed, Only An Alligator is my first exposure to the man and his work. Having now been completely exposed I can tell you that any synopsis of events therein will necessarily be haphazard and completely inadequate, but such things are kind of expected in a book review, so...
Barny Juno lives in Accomplice, a smallish town on the shores of the Baffling Ocean and the edge of Bloody Canyon (according to the map in the front). You won't be surprised to learn that Accomplice has not existed previously, does not exist now and is unlikely ever to exist in the future; in fact, it's nothing but a bizarrely realised figment of the author's imagination! Where, then, does it come from? And why?
I was actually going to write this review in an imitation of Aylett's occasionally hilarious Surrealese, but we reviewers (most of us, anyway) have to stray at least occasionally into seriousness and consistency or else we don't get invited back. It's a problem, I don't mind telling you, especially for a bloody-minded book like Only An Alligator. Stuff occurs in this book, stuff that doesn't occur anywhere else in literature. Is that for the best? Well, probably.
OK, so Barny Juno lives in Accomplice, a smallish town on the shores of the Baffling Ocean and the edge of Bloody Canyon. Upon falling down a creepchannel he rescues an alligator trapped there. His appropriation of this unfortunate beast catches the eye of Sweeney, Lord of Hell, alternately raising demonic ire and bafflement with Barny's idiot savant attitude to life. Where does it all lead? Nowhere, as far as I can tell; but Aylett's prose is often quite funny and occasionally hilarious. Will that do you?
I do like the fact that you have to pay attention when reading Only An Alligator, since the little everyday rational variety of sense you normally expect from a novel is heavily lathered with almost-not-quite-well-maybe-or-maybe-not-who-knows?-not-me surrealistic wordplay.
There's that S-word again. Only An Alligator is a surreal novel in my book, there's no escaping it.
The sense in the narrative is of the short-term variety, seldom lasting much beyond individual paragraphs or even sentences. Of course, that could be frustrating or simply tiresome if Only An Alligator were much longer than 135 pages. Fortunately Aylett -- humourous, imaginative and inventive with his words like few others writing today that I'm aware of -- keeps at bay the frustration that reading surrealistic writing usually entails.
OK, he's not quite Borges but he's quite different and he's quite funny and I quite liked this.
At £9.99 it is a bit expensive for just 135 pages, though...
Review by Stuart Carter
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© Stuart Carter 31 August 2002