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by James Lovegrove

with introductions by Eric Brown

(PS Publishing, £35 hardback, 129 pages and 138 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition, published November 2003; also available as slipcased signed hardback at £60.)

Review by John Toon

cover scanA man, a plan, two novellas -- Gig. Doesn't quite work, does it? Palindromes are the order of the day in this back-to-back brace of stories revolving around pop band God Dog's return to their home, Rotor City, and the final concert of their recent world tour. In "Kim", an obsessive God Dog fan and the spitting image (in all but gender) of their lead singer, acting on a drug-induced vision, prepares to kill her idol, just like he's asked her to do. Meanwhile, in "Mik", having announced to his bandmates that "It's over", God Dog's lead singer prepares for a last grand gesture that, he's assured his best mate and confidant Dave Noon, will be something special.

James Lovegrove certainly loves his wordplay. Ordinarily, he tends to fill his tales with ironically meaningful names, like some 21st century British Gogol; here he's gone for palindromic names, or names that, reversed, reflect names in the other novella. Gig is jam-packed with 'em -- literal palindromes, dualities of metaphor, and structural mirrorings. For a start, there's the physical book itself, with its black and white cover and its "Binary" style flip-over layout -- really, the only format that would do this book justice, and the perfect book for this format. There's the character pairing of Mik and Kim, animus and anima, each of them hallucinating the other in narcotic reveries. There's mirrored events, like Mik finding the inspiration for his final grand gesture stumbling around in a thick fog on Neve's Moor, while Kim searches for a God Dog Access All Areas pass in the nightclub Room Seven, with its maze of unseen rooms and restricted areas. Finally there's the wordplay; some of this is more than a little contrived, but there's fun to be had in spotting it all.

However, like the example I opened this review with, the palindrome of Gig isn't exact, and I suspect this is deliberate on Lovegrove's part. There's a letter's difference between Mik Dyer and Kim Reid, and the viewpoint character of "Mik" isn't Mik at all, but his friend Dave. We can see into Kim's mind, but where we should see Mik's reflection waving back from the mirror, there's only a hazy outline. The disparity accretes like a pearl until, at the novellas' climaxes, it twists what looked like being a fairly definite ending and leaves it ambiguous. To best appreciate this effect, I advise the reader to do as I (unintentionally) did and read "Kim" first.

On a more basic level, Gig is an enjoyable read, although some of the more obvious and less authentic palindromes do grate after a while. Characterisation is uniformly excellent, and there's quite a few entertaining moments -- I can't let chapter 3 of "Kim" go unmentioned, in which street warfare breaks out in a music-obsessed district of Rotor between pre-1966 and post-1966 Beatles fans. It's one of the funniest things I've read in ages.

A lovely book, and three cheers to Lovegrove for writing and to PS for publishing a pair of such novel novellas.

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