Wednesday, 23 November 2011

REVIEW: The Tally by E.G. Wolverson

Anyone who is reading this blog is likely to be familiar with the work of E.G. Wolverson. It was Mr Wolverson who created and ran The History of the Doctor, filling it with hundreds of articles, reviews and works of short fiction. The whole time he was working on that, he was also working on The Tally, his first novel. It's now available to download from Amazon, although anyone looking for some whimsical Doctor Who-like fantasy should look elsewhere (although he has managed to sneak the odd reference to both Who and Star Wars into the mix).

The Tally takes us to Hull, where a bunch of hapless students are struggling with the harsh realities of life. Wolverson has described this novel as 'bloke lit,' the opposite of chick lit, and it's easy to see where he's coming from. From the outset, the book is puerile, profane and sex-obssessed. Yet this is down to the very nature of the characters, who are just like this - or endeavour to be, in each other's company. As the story moves on, we see that much of this is merely the surface of the characters' personalities. While Will tries to mark up as many conquests on his tally as he can, he struggles with an eating disorder to maintain his perfect image. Tom is hopelessly in love with an unattainable girl, and is slipping further and further into depression. Legendary dropout Spadge is trying, and failing, to move on in life, while meathead Gristle... doesn't really think about anything much. Young teaching student Jamal is so uptight he's ready to snap, until student life shows him what he's been missing.

The Tally is a sobering look at the shallow pool of filth that occupies most men's thoughts, but while the endless parade of smut and knob references kept me smirking, the novel delves into deeper, more philosophical territory. Wolverson can switch from graphic descriptions of snakebite-flavoured vomit to solipsist reflections on the nature of the mind, granting each a colurful turn of phrase. While the continual hopping between characters' viewpoints can take some getting used to, it allows a small stage to seem much larger. Not only do the main cast of characters let us into their heads, so do various supporting players, male and female, each granting a look at the world both mundane and philosophical (except Gristle). Yet throughout the laughs, the profanity, the sex, the love and loss, there is death. A killer is on the loose, and is closer than we may suspect...

My one problem with The Tally is Wolverson's decision to write the dialogue phonetically to stress the Yorkshire accents. While it helps to get a sound for the characters and setting, it does make reading some passages hard work - although I am a southern nancy, and would probably have trouble understanding half of it if it were spoken aloud to me. It's also true that a lot of readers won't be comfortable with a book so happy to revel in childish obscenity. Still, they'd be missing the point - this is how a bunch of lads speak to each other out on the piss, and how our minds often work. At least Will and Tom begin to realise how shallow their lives have bee, and start to develop beyond that - if not necessarily for the better.

The Tally is thoughtful yet raucously fun work, and while clearly a first novel, is driven by an angry verve that takes us from realism and comedy, through weirdness and philosophy, into the realms of horror. It's a sure bet for fans of the grubby worlds of Skins or Misfits, and those who want a novel that doesn't rigidly sit within one genre. And, at only £1.71 per copy, well within even a student's budget.

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