Stewart Home’s latest novel, Mandy, Charlie &
Mary-Jane, is a brilliant satire on
academia that begins simple enough then slowly devolves into a blood bath, at
least in the deranged mind of the protagonist. The story follows Charlie
Templeton, a cultural studies professor at the City University of
Newcastle-upon-Tyne (CUNT) as he strives to improve his position in the
faculty, finish his movie script Zombie Sex Freaks, and occasionally lecture to a class of
half-interested students. But Charlie has problems. Rampant drug use has
destroyed any sense of identity, time, and reality that he may have had. He
frequently forgets who he is, where he is, what he is teaching (often
mid-class) and often confuses his wife Mandy with Mary-Jane, his mistress (when
he recognizes them at all). Charlie denies there is a problem with the retort,
“I’m high on theory, not drugs.”
None of this stops Charlie from his dreams of being a triple
threat – screenwriter, professor and head of the cultural studies department.
And he is willing to sabotage his students and murder his fellow faculty to
achieve this end. He meets filmmaker Sue Williams, who is on campus documenting
the decline of higher education, and the two decide to remake Man Bites Dog, with Charlie in the lead role and the other faculty
as victims. His ascension up the ranks would be caught on tape, for posterity
and for art’s sake. Needless to say, things don’t go completely as planned.
This is played out against the 7/7 terrorist bombings in
London in 2005. Charlie eventually believes that he has discovered the hidden
meaning of these bombings. He concludes that he needs to carry out his own
suicide bombing at Holy Island. In the end, Charlie navigates what he believes
is a not-so-glorious afterlife, or, more appropriately, a zoned-out reality
brought on by drug psychosis and/or prolonged immersion in an academic setting.
Does this sound heavy? Don’t be fooled. The novel is filled
with dark humor. It is not only a satire on the university lifestyle, but on
the futility of terrorism. Home makes fun of the reactionary elements that make
up both of those systems. Some of the humor comes from Charlie and the fact
that he is becoming unhinged. His classes are equally as deranged, when he
remembers what he is supposed to be teaching, that is. For instance, the
syllabus for his film course is comprised of Eurosleaze classics such as Oasis
of the Dead and Cannibal
Holocaust. Not exactly the Canon. The
students do not share his enthusiasm for these films (their cultural references
do not go beyond Coldplay and the Blair Witch Project) and react like zombies, numb and blank-faced.
Throw in a radical Buddhist cell who are running a currency
counterfeiting ring, Charlie’s inability to have sex with anyone who is
conscious, a side discussion about the Belle de Jour blogger (an in-joke as
some believed Stewart Home to be Belle de Jour), and a group of ghost punks
(punk ghosts?) who reveal the Pagan source of the London bombings, and you have
the making of an instant classic.
What I find interesting about Home’s novels is keeping up
with all of the references he throws at you. They always lead you down new
avenues to explore. For instance, 69 Things to do with a Dead Princess led me to Ann Quin, while Red London led me to Richard Allen. This novel opens up the
doors to a whole range of obscure horror and art films, not to mention to other
artists, such as Andre Stitt.
As always, the writing is tight and focused. Home has a
no-nonsense, direct style that is readable and moves the action along. No
flowery prose or extraneous words filling out the page. This is a brilliant
read. Highly recommended. Fans of Stewart Home will groove to the story. And
it’s a great introduction to those new to him. So, what are you waiting for?
Also, check out my interview with Stewart here