One of the favourite pieces of advice to writers about creating tension is : – ‘Torment your protagonist’. And, of course, the said writers often don’t stop there. Sometimes, they kill them off. This is to say nothing of the minor characters. How many of those get bumped off in the average writer’s career?
Rob Gregson’s ‘Shelf Life’ is a highly original and gripping piece of black comedy about the world of narratives, and of what happens to prematurely killed and murdered characters of all sorts, from protagonists down to those with the most insignificant roles.
Cathy Finn leads an uneventful life running a bookshop. She is the less exciting and ornamental of a pair of sisters, and fully satisfied with that.
Unfortunately, one day, she is an unwilling witness to a crime. A ‘personal injury consultant’ is sent to eliminate her.
Just as he shoots her dead, she is taken to another reality: that is, New Tibet. Here she learns that she was only a minor character in the mystery novel in which her sister was the female lead.
This is because all realities are narratives, and in the mysterious Dome at New Tibet, they all converge. Now Cathy Finn is free to lead any sort of life that takes her fancy.
But the redoubtable Cathy Finn only wants to lead one – her old one. She is determined to escape back to her old reality and reunite with her mother and sister; this despite the fact that everyone assures her that she will never be able to return.
Here, Cathy Finn shows that she is more courageous and resourceful than either she, or anyone else, could ever have suspected…
Through her attempts to get back, she becomes involved with a world hopping , nut chewing slob and petty smuggler known as ‘Hitch the Postman’, who has been made the unlikely candidate to deal with the threat to the integrity of the Dome and the consequent safety of New Tibet.
There follows an hilarious, and strangely believable, race through a series of all sorts of narratives, a chase across worlds with Hitch, the loutish security man Duggan, and the larger than life Professor Locke which makes for delightfully dark comedy.
They race through bad dystopias, tales of zombie apocalypses, mediocre sci-fi’s, fan fiction, hackneyed westerns, re-writes of classical novels, Blyton-esque children’s stories and just about every other sort of tale.
With an hilarious and all-too-believable cast of characters – from the seedy, self serving Hitch to the cold and calculating Max Roberts – this book is a for all those who like me, revel in dark comedy.
Here are some of my favourite quotes: –
‘The watchman snorted. “Yeah. Right. D’you want the truth, Miss Finn? They told him only to work with his closest friends; people he could really trust.” He flashed his charge a disdainful grin. “You don’t have any friends, do you, Hitch? You’ve p*****d on so many people’s chips, you’ve got nobody left.”’
‘ ‘Hitch’s face turned a colour most commonly associated with kitchen appliances.’
‘”We’ve been lured into a work in progress; a tale left deliberately unfinished, designed to swallow us up like an insect in amber.”’
‘“Stay your hands,” said Silas, his voice still strangely amplified. “End this motiveless malignity. You fret and squabble over meagre nothings.”
“Motives and what?” said Jones. “What’s ‘e goin’ on about?”
Two figures now stood in the doorway: one thin and pale, one fat and flushed – both looking as though they’d been selected from opposite ends of some peculiar line-up of the aesthetically-challenged.
You can buy the book on Amazon.co.uk here
and on Amazon.com here