Review of Fat Scouser’s new book: "The Life & Opinions of Mr Nobody – Shithouse"
Posted by royhendo on July 18, 2012, 11:56:39 AM
It's a nice thing in life when one of your mates does something that genuinely takes you aback, and makes you feel proud. We all know Fats - he's been writing for this site for roughly half a decade now, and while we sometimes have our disagreements, we'd all concede that as a writer, he's a unique talent, and one that all of us on the site should be proud of.
Leo has written a novel - he's done a website with a few details about it here: http://www.misternobody.co.uk/
You can buy it here: http://www.misternobody.co.uk/buy
Unsurprisingly, much of it centres around Liverpool FC - hence the review being in the Liverpool forum. The few of us who've read it have been blown away with how good it is.
With that in mind, over to Yorkykopite, who's kindly written a review for your delectation.
--Review of Fat Scouser’s new book: "The Life and Opinions of Mr Nobody – Shithouse"
You hear it a lot on RAWK, especially on the ‘Auld Arse’ thread, though in other places too. ‘Fat Scouser’ will have just posted an hilarious account of an ‘80s European away-day, a tormented description of a three-day hangover, or a blistering attack on the mercantile character of the modern game, and someone will say “Why don’t you write a book mate?” I’ve said it myself several times, the first, I’m sure, after he wrote one of RAWK’s greatest-ever pieces about an old Liverpool boxer he knew as a young man.
Fats would reply “thanks” or “fuck off” (often synonyms for him) and then put a straight bat out and say either, “No, I’m no writer”, or (the self-evidently absurd) “I’ve nothing to say”.
Stupidly, I came to believe him. Yet all the while something was incubating in that generous and deranged mind of his. And now we have it. The Life and Opinions of Mr Nobody – Shithouse is a massive, sprawling, politically savvy, hilarious, disgusting, poignant, morally dubious, utterly uplifting novel. I read it a couple of weeks back, swept up in its picaresque yarn, and I’m now recommending it to everyone who comes on this site.
The first thing to say is that it comes from Fats’s unmistakeable hand. You’ll know what I mean if you’re a reader of his posts. Style is the hardest thing to acquire as a writer because you have to be faithful to your own voice and not let cliché, tired modes of expression and second-hand opinions get in the way – which they will always do if your guard drops. Fats’s voice – the voice of his best posts on here – comes through beautifully in this book. You can hear the cackle of his laughter, the acid drip of his opinions and the barely credible (all-too credible!) world he has created around his central character, Mr Nobody – Shithouse.
I just called it a ‘novel’, but is that what it is? A novel? Or is it a memoir? A fantasy? A sustained piece of reportage? It’s impossible to say for sure and pointless trying to work it out. Probably it’s a genre-defying combination of all four. Certainly it has the tang of truth running it through it and, for all the unreliable narration, has authentic roots in time and place.
Broadly Fats’s book is about growing up and becoming a man in Liverpool in the 1960s and 70s – and testing that ‘Liverpoolness’ in the rest of the world thereafter.
A lot of people on here will want to know “Ah, but is it about Liverpool Football Club?” The answer is ‘yes’, but only in part. There are brilliant passages about seeing floodlit Anfield from a boy’s bedroom window in the early ‘60s (“a lovely glow to the city and me”), about hearing the strange, haunting sounds of the Kop rolling down the terraced streets, about going to the ground for the first time, about Heysel and about Istanbul. There’s also stuff about Shankly, who serves as much for Mr Nobody as a reference point for an idea about life (the fellowship of socialism) as he does for an idea about football. There’s stuff too about “childhood heroes” like Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan, as well as the recent campaign against the ownership of Hicks and Gillett. There’s a little bit about RAWK too and a moving tribute to Ray Osbourne, who many here will know as ‘Shanklyboy’ who helped spearhead the supporters’ fight back against the cowboys.
But it would be misleading to readers – and unfair to Fats – to say that ‘Mr Nobody’ is just a book about LFC. It’s far better than that. The great West Indian writer CLR James once prefaced Beyond a Boundary, his famous book about Caribbean cricket, by asking: ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ It was his excuse to get beyond the cover drives and the scorecard to talk about plantation life in Trinidad, schooling, colonialism, racism, literature and political liberty. It meant that when he did get down to describing the refined beauty of Garfield Sobers or the ferocity of Wes Hall you saw these things through different, all-encompassing, eyes. Well, for my money, Mr Nobody does a similar thing for Liverpool football. It’s possible to follow Liverpool FC without knowing anything about the city, the author seems to be saying, but you’ll never understand it and therefore you’ll never really love it.
And so through the character of ‘Mr Nobody’ – “a rogue, a thief, a scally” and a self-proclaimed “shithouse” – we negotiate the rapids of post-industrial Liverpool, a city clinging on to life with self-deprecating humour (always the best kind) and a resilience and cynical knowingness born of desperation and hard times.
The beauty of the book is that familiar sociological ideas about Merseyside are rendered into human comedy and tragedy, and often it’s hard to know where to draw the line. The description of Mr Nobody’s family moving out to an unnamed new town on the borders of the city (Kirkby?) teeters on the pathetic until it is yanked wildly back into black humour. I don’t know whether the befuddled conversation between the displaced slum family and the terrified bus-driver at this semi-rural terminus ever took place. It hardly matters. But it feels real enough. And it is side-splittingly funny. It also says more about alienation than a suitcase full of sociological textbooks on the subject.
Mr Nobody himself is a staggering mix of saint and sinner whose own moral compass is boxed all over the place. He’s a man of amazing contradictions who lashes out at all the types who have made modern life so miserable – politicians, shrinks, coppers, social workers, town planners – but who is constantly confounded in his prejudices by meeting individual politicians, shrinks, coppers etc who he actually likes. In similar fashion he rails against the corporate ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers’ who have swindled the Liverpool working class out of their inheritance while rejecting his father’s passion – organised working-class politics – and choosing, for his own career, the life of a pickpocket and shoplifter.
It’s of a piece that there’s no moralising in this book – which is not to say that it lacks any moral sense at all. Mr Nobody may dip into pockets outside football grounds and railway stations but unlike one colleague – who is ostracised by fellow dippers for robbing a nun and endures the name ‘Rob Nun’ for ever more – he confines his targets to “men in their peak-earning years”. He’s nothing if not up for a challenge. Incidentally, the descriptions of how to pick pockets and rob department stores are superb, as is the tension in the story-telling when certain heists are described. One particular spree, which ends with our hero peeling off his wet clothes and replacing them, through sheer desperation, with the crimes-to-fashion he’s had to nick from a suburban washing line, is told with aching comic genius.
The one fixed point in Mr Nobody’s life, apart from the club he follows, are his grandparents – the beloved ‘Nina’ and ‘The Kaiser’. But there’s no soft ride here either. Nina’s love for her grandchildren would be described as ‘tough love’ these days and she has her own corner of scouse darkness – a passionate dislike of Roman Catholics. The Kaiser, meanwhile, is introduced as “a proper hard man”. “At the age of 13” we are told,
“he’d walked practically every step of the way from Glasgow to Liverpool because there was no work up there in Scotland. Seems a bit daft heading to Liverpool looking for a job. But, as he said, Liverpool was the crossroads of the world then….
‘If aww roads led tae Rome, Laddie, all wahter met in Libpool.”
These are vividly sketched characters, but not the least of the book’s successes, is the way they handled by the narrator. “I’ll have to pack that in, writing in his accent”, says Mr Nobody, immediately after telling this anecdote. But of course he can’t resist and after long periods where the dialogue is conventional scouse the Kaiser is suddenly rendered into cod Caledonian again, only to trigger another round of self-recrimination and false promises from the narrator.
Likewise a digression becomes so interesting to the writer that he breaks off to explain he’ll get back to his main story later on. It must be said he’s as good as his word and in the end nothing is left hanging. But it means he can go literally anywhere. In the middle of a wonderful anecdote about a glass-eating Kopite in the 1970s, Harry Redknapp’s tax arrangements come up for scathing comment, before the narrator gets back to commiserating with the man who ate beer glasses to raise his entrance money to the match only to see the recession make punters more miserly and only prepared to cough up to see the ticketless man feast one of those chunky beer glasses with a handle on it.
I guess the title of Fats’s book gives us a clue to the style. ‘The Life and Opinions of Mr Nobody’ apes the title page of Laurence Sterne’s 18th century novel ‘Tristram Shandy’ – another picaresque tale told by a narrator who believes that digression is the most interesting thing about story-telling. But to write in this way you need enormous discipline and enormous craft. You also need an ear for the spoken word and a respect for the economy of language. Fats has these things and the book, as a result is a triumph.
I want to end the review by quoting a passage about Istanbul – not just because it’s about one of the great moments in football history, but because it shows the writer’s style.
“Never mind, sentimental, this was proper mental. Unbeknownst to me, something in me had changed that night. Obviously a lot of things done it, me Nina, The Kaiser, me up-bringing, me family, even me Father, the sight of Shite Twin, Shame, Istanbul, it all had effect. But more than anything it was the thought of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and the sight of Rafa. I suddenly realised I wanted to be like them…a good, decent, honourable man.
I didn’t go all sanctimonious like a born again Christian or ex-drug addict, plonky. No. Fuck that malarkey. But I was getting on a bit, so I sort of knew I had to change”.
That’s not the end of the story. For those who know Fats, even just through this place, there’s bound to be a sting in the tail.
If you want to be entertained this summer, if you want to laugh, if you want to get angry, if you admire good writing, or if you just want to find out something about your beloved club that nobody else can tell you, then get on the lad’s website and get yourself a copy of this marvellous book.
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