On a trip to one of my favourite small bookshops recently, my attention was drawn to a small display of books from a new, local publisher I had not heard of. As I like to support publishing initiative, I decided to buy one of the titles (I had actually already spent that week’s book allowance).
I chose the one novel in the display, partly because it was a novel, partly because the look of it intrigued me – the cover, the deliberate smudginess, in keeping with the publisher’s name, Honest Publishing.
The novel, The Killing Of A Bank Manager, by Paul Kavanagh, a name I had never heard of, turned out to be more than intriguing. Baffling, rather. I read it with bewilderment, then bemusement, finally fascination. But what was the source of the fascination? I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Plot? Forget it; there isn’t one. Kavanagh dispenses with plot, dispenses with most of the rules of writing. He appears blissfully unaware that there are any rules. An Alfred Wallis, a Douanier Rousseau of literature.
But on reflection, the wit, exuberance and sheer range of cultural allusion all testify to a writer of extreme sophistication. For example, the low-life character called Les, which turns out to be short for Les Fleurs du Mal. Or sentences such as these:
A girl yawned lazily, a perfect yawn for an idyllic day.
One does not need to read Burton to know that gin is a drink for melancholics.
All the bank tellers were young, beautiful girls that were waiting to go to university, where they would sip wine, pontificate about Schopenhauer and indulge in promiscuous sex.
Those sentences were chosen at random; almost every sentence exhibits that level of wit.
So the closest analogy I could think of in trying to get to grips with this was the faux naiveté of Art Brut or Outsider Art: painters such as Franz Karl Bühler, Adolf Wölfli, and Henry Darger, whose works combine visionary intensity, obsessive detail and high degrees of sophistication with an abandonment of the normative rules of art.
This turned out to be no coincidence, as it transpires that Kavanagh has written stories inspired by Darger and schizophrenic painter Richard Dadd (the bank manager was to be killed by slitting his throat, the manner in which Dadd killed his dad, as Kavanagh would probably phrase it. Actually the bank manager remains unscathed; I said there was no plot).
For literary analogies we would have to think in terms of Raymond Roussel, Stefan Themerson, late Joyce, or Robert Walser and, currently, the coruscating short pieces of HP Tinker – the latter two both discussed in Lee Rourke’s A Brief History Of Fables.
All these analogies take us only so far, but they are the only way I can find of conveying anything about the book. It is, ultimately, unsummarizable, sui generis. You just have to read it. Without preconception, surrender to the inventiveness, the kaleidoscopic exuberance. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, and discovering that each piece comes from a different jigsaw, but together make up something more interesting than you expected.
David Rose is the author of Vault: An Anti-Novel, published by Salt.