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Martin Stannard

‘The Solex Brothers’ - Luke Kennard (Stride, £6.95)

I enjoy reading - sometimes. Sometimes I don’t enjoy reading much at all. Often reading is a chore, and as with most chores it can be put off, or abandoned. But when the reading is good I don’t want it to stop, and can happily read the same thing over and over again if I like it enough. Let’s meet The Solex Brothers:

The Solex Brothers were broad and salient, their card game a distraction. I had heard about them: ‘They grab you by the head and force your head into places it doesn’t normally go – like into a jug.’


In a purely metaphorical way I can enjoy having my head forced into places it doesn’t normally go. Sometimes, of course, those places are not nice places to be, and here I can repeat that “Sometimes I don’t enjoy reading much at all. Often reading is a chore, and as with most chores it can be put off, or abandoned” stuff. Other times it’s a pleasure to have my head placed there, wherever it is. Perhaps it will be on a train, and there is a man playing the guitar with his feet, and an undercover policeman. And The Solex Brothers. It would be easy to say how the stories in “The Solex Brothers” by Luke Kennard are kind of surreal-ish and funny and witty but, for all that, full of the things ordinary life overflows with. Things like emotions, bewilderments, mistakes, misunderstandings, conflicts, other people ….. “The Solex Brothers” couldn’t have been written by anyone who didn’t have a pretty good grip on what our world is like, but it’s also in a world of its own. And the writing is a pleasure, utterly devoid of writerliness (a word I just borrowed or made up, I think) and self-regard. It is simply happy to be written. No, not happy; more like delighted. Oh, I want to say how much I love the word “jug”. I can’t remember the last time I read it, or heard it, but isn’t it a great word? Jug.

‘Boy,’ says the Wolf, leaning over my shoulder, ‘you’re like living proof that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’


It’s time to meet the Wolf. I have a new literary hero to add to my little pantheon of literary heroes. He is in two things here, “To A Wolf” and “The Wolf’s Career”. I call them “things” because they’re not really stories. The full title of the book ( “The Solex Brothers and other prose poems”) would have us see them as prose poems rather than stories, but I suspect this is the author’s amusing little joke. Oh, how I chuckled. Back to the Wolf:

The wolf is just crazy for representations of himself.


‘Here’s a picture of you, wolf.’

‘Great!’ cries the wolf.

‘Here’s a story about you.’

‘Give it here!’ cries the wolf.

For a moment, when I first read this, I thought it was about me, but it isn’t. Perhaps it’s about you. The Wolf is a great creation. He is about 100% wolf and 100% ego. I know that makes 200% but that’s the point. I would have a poster of him on my wall, were there such a thing. A poster, that is, not wall. He’s a Presbyterian, but he doesn’t know an awful lot about Calvinism because, as he says, he was predestined not to. He is “crestfallen” when he discovers there are other wolves. His “career”, such as it is, includes clergyman:

‘Because I was youngest among seven brothers…it is only fitting I become a school-master or member of the clergy.’

educator:

The wolf reads to the class from a book of his own stories:


‘There was once a wolf – who owned many beautiful cars and a handsome, admirable tail – who sat next to a miserable man on a bus.

“What have you got to look so pleased about?” said the miserable man.

Reader, I ate him.’

and playwright:


‘If not caring about people and eating them is disagreeable, then so be it,’ says the wolf. I’m neither physician nor philosopher, I merely diagnose a terrible crapulence, have the fortune teller set fire to the executive’s house and conclude on some joyless chit about how lucky we all are. It’s called having a social conscience….’

I have to say that when I received this book in the mail I was over the moon. Well, not literally over the moon but almost literally on the other side of the world. (“Over the moon”, I know, is a cliché, but I just read a couple of great articles by Frank Sullivan from the 1930s “New Yorker” where he has Mr. Arbuthnot, an expert in clichés, being interviewed, and it’s so good….. Q: “And what will you be over? A: The moon.” I’m sorry, I digress. Which is probably another one.) I collected my mail from the Faculty Office of the university I’m working at in China, and I opened the envelope, and took out the book, and by the time I’d walked down eight flights of stairs and wandered out on to the forecourt of the building to hunt for my bicycle among several hundred other bicycles I’d already read the first few pages. Back at my apartment I sat and read the rest of it…. I should probably have been doing something else, but this reading was so good.

The wolf remains apoplectic until I agree to take him to the pub.


Later in the day at cocktail hour (we call it cocktail hour; it’s actually beer consumption on the balcony time) one of my friends picked up the book from the table and browsed some of its pages. “This looks good,” he said, and I said “Yes, it is. I’ll let you borrow it. One day.” I haven’t let him borrow it yet.

Everything is orange and blue in the twilight. I eat a raw quail’s egg, swallowing it whole and using the constricting muscles of my throat to break the shell. It’s an old snake trick I learned from TV.

My only complaint is that the book isn’t long enough. I wanted more. Kennard’s imaginative range is constantly awe-inspiring, coupling as it does seeming absurdities with healthy doses of down-to-earthiness to concoct, well, I don’t care to try to name what it concocts, because to name it would spoil my day. Reading “The Esplanade”, which concerns a spy and an assassin, sort of, it occurred to me somewhat belatedly that the voice behind these, um, things (the narrator? Well, maybe) is consistent. It belongs to a participant in what’s going on, someone who is a part of things but somehow adrift, at times very switched on and self-assured, at other times bemused and something of a spectator.

I lie in the middle of the lawn throwing a rubber ball into the air and catching it. Sometimes I miss and the rubber ball bounces off my chest and into the phlox, followed by protracted searching.

I am not tied to the rubber ball, but an observer would be forgiven.

And finally …..

I just spent a couple of days trying to think of how to end this review, such as it is. Reviews usually end with some kind of summing up but, to be painfully and perhaps embarrassingly honest, I can’t think of anything. I thought of saying something along the lines of how Luke Kennard’s writing is a ray of sunshine borne upon a breath of fresh air, but I thought that was too silly, so silly I couldn’t type it, and I actually knocked over my drink while I was thinking how silly it was, so I can’t say that. Then, I wondered about playing with the idea of madcap absurd surreal-ish stuff and how does it stand here, in the 21st century? …. but I fell asleep while I was wondering about that, so I figured it’s a non-starter…. (thank God….) Finally, I thought I wouldn’t end it formally at all, I’d just stop. I figured Luke might like that, and I’m hoping that one day when he’s a rich and famous writer he’ll remember some of the older guys who helped put him there. Oh, I just knocked over another drink….







Copyright © Martin Stannard, 2006