Keywords: Cult writing, Apocalypse culture, Cows, noir, crime

Title: High Life

Author: Matthew Stokoe

Publisher: Akashic

Media: Book

ISBN: 1888451327


Matthew Stokoe has gone the only place that was possible for him to go after the visceral extreme that was Cows. Noir, the blackest and most misanthropic of genres, is the only logical destination for a writer of his sick and twisted imagination. High Life, his second novel, is as slick, well-written and pathological as anything that past masters of noir have produced. It is a stunning piece of work, in more ways than one.

Jack is a man who harbours the kind of LA dreams that only Hollywood can muster. He knows that existence is meaningless except for those who are famous. Only the famous can truly exist, they are a race apart, more than human, and to be one of them is what he aspires to. No, aspire is the wrong word, it's what he hungers for more than anything else in the world.

Like countless others his dreams take place against a backdrop of grinding nothingness, of dead-end work, relationships and gazing at a distance at those that have made it. All this changes when his hooker wife, Karen, is found dead in a gutter, sliced open with methodical, surgical skill. Her death takes him on a journey that reaches depths and heights that he can't even imagine.

All of the classic ingredients of Californian noir are here, but Stokoe takes things further than most. His writing is brutal, scatological and perverse. Reading this requires a strong stomach, there are times when you want it to stop. This is anything but light reading. And yet, there is more to this than a catalogue of graphically described horrors. The plot is skilfully worked, the elements of crime writing are not jettisoned in the mounting horrors that he describes. There's also a certain grim humour on display, at times it is impossible not to laugh, even when Stokoe is making us wallow in filth. One can't help but feel that he's enjoying himself immensely…

This is a compelling and gripping novel, but one that made me feel unwashed. Reading this I could feel a thin film of disgust that nothing could wash away. The images stay with you for days afterwards.

Culture does not get more pessimistic than this

Contents © London Book Review 2006. Published March 29 2006