by Quinn Magnanti
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
I'm utterly in love with my Kindle. It has taken a while for e-readers to come of age but the current generation of Amazon's mega-gadget is ushering in a new era in the world of publishing. You see, the Kindle is not just a fantastic piece of technology but it also provides aspiring writers with the ability to make their books widely accessible, far more so than previous self-publishing schemes (such as Lulu.com) have offered.
Self-publishing is a funny old business. There are a lot of people out there who roll their eyes at the thought of it and dismiss such endeavours as “vanity publishing”. Undoubtedly, the ability for writers to self-publish and sell their e-books through Amazon does mean that the market has been flooded by an awful lot of books of questionable quality. Whilst readers have been given greater choice, it comes at a price - for every gem, there're a hundred duds and one has to exercise caution when shopping for a good read.
On the other hand, one could argue that the traditional publishing industry is now so focussed on celebrity autobiographies, misery memoirs and generic thrillers that the opportunity for fresh new writers to break through is virtually impossible. The big publishing houses are no longer interested in taking chances, they know what sells and tend not to stray out of their comfort zone. Self-publishing via Kindle enables writers to share their efforts with the world and provides readers with the opportunity to read something genuinely original. The digital medium removes the need for writers to worry about printing costs and so they are often able to make their books available for a far lower price. Readers are able to buy full-length novels for less than the price of a newspaper and the writers are able to take a decent share of the profits.
At just 69p, one can hardly argue that “Leeds LS80” is bad value for money. I've paid more than that to sit on a bus into Birmingham city centre next to a man who'd pissed himself. Most chocolate bars now cost around 60p and they only provide a few fleeting moments of enjoyment. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of anything that you can buy for less than a pound which has given me quite so much pleasure as Quinn Magnanti's utterly puerile jaunt through Leeds in the 1980s.
Quinn Magnanti isn't one person, but two. The collaboration between old chums Jonny Magnanti and Jason Quinn has proven surprisingly fruitful and together they have written a number of books. I first came across them when I read “The Palace of Wonder”, their grubby little take on Jack the Ripper and nineteenth century London and I was keen to experience something else by the duo. “Leeds LS80” follows Dunno, a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who decides to enrol on the drama course at his local college in an effort to turn his life around. There, he meets an assortment of hippies, eccentrics and dropouts and the stage is set (no pun intended) for the ensuing hilarity. As the narrator of the story, we get to know Dunno very well. He is a fantastic character and his rough humour and simplistic world view provides a hilarious lens through which to watch the often pretentious goings-on at drama college. Drama college changes Dunno and his hard-man persona melts in the company of his unusual new friends. It's rare to find such a well-rounded creation in any work of comic fiction, let alone one that costs little more than a bag of crisps.
The supporting cast is equally colourful. There's Dunno's housemate Sly, a scruffy, pot-smoking layabout who discovers his calling in life when he sets himself up as a male prostitute servicing the needs of elderly women. Then there's Spud, an Irish lad with big dreams of becoming a star. He is so utterly convinced of his own brilliance that he is surprised when others aren't. The highlight for me was the college's drama teacher, Derek Wales. A bullying, lecherous, arrogant little shit of a man who lords it over his students and spews vitriolic abuse to them at any given opportunity. With his tight jeans, cowboy boots and John Wayne swagger, Wales makes a perfect comic villain and one can't help but utterly loathe him. Indeed, Wales inspires such hatred from his own students that they begin to suspect him of being the Yorkshire Ripper and set out to save the young women of Leeds from his advances. Many of the characters in the novel are so well-formed and believable that it seems impossible that they are not inspired by Quinn and Magnanti's own friends from their youth.
Ostensibly a comic coming-of-age novel, the humour in “Leeds LS80” is likely to polarise its readers. This is a crude, rude book and those with a penchant for knob-gags will feel like all their Christmases have come at once. However, readers of a more prudish nature will be turned off by the vast amount of swearing, nudity, male prostitution and northerners. In fact, the knob-gags come so thick and fast that Quinn and Magnanti seem to have it down to an art-form. But let's not be coy here, there're more than a few great British authors who were fond of a knob-gag or two. Shakespeare never shied away from them and Chaucer's “The Canterbury Tales” is chock-full of them. If you've ever had a chuckle at a man's tallywhacker, chances are you'll find plenty to laugh at in “Leeds LS80.”
On the down side, the Kindle edition shows a few signs of needing a careful edit. There's a few spelling errors here and there and whilst this is a pretty minor niggle, it does highlight one of the problems of self-publishing through Amazon. Then again, those who have paid a mere 69 pence for such an enjoyable book are unlikely to grumble. The crude humour that drips from every page of “Leeds LS80” means that it is unlikely to be snapped up by any big publishers in the near future. With a great cast of characters, an enjoyable story and plenty of belly-laughs, this is well worth checking out. As the ever erudite Dunno would say, you'd be a f*****g c**t not to.
Hereward L.M. Proops