Trigger warnings: suicide, sexual violence, violence, decomposing corpses, sexual advances made upon decomposing corpses. And more sexual violence.
Kimberly Clarke is in Hell and her long dead father Barry has been instructed by a giant three headed hamster called Lucifer to fuck her.
For all the good it’ll do him Barry squares up to the hamster and and spouts, “You’re disgusting. Juvenile and disgusting.”
And that’s about all you need to know about this novel.
Kimberly doesn’t want to go out with Stevie anymore. So she proceeds to make his life as miserable as she can in the hope he’ll dump her. Instead, he hangs himself from a children’s climbing frame with his shoelaces, plunging Kimberly into a long bout of self-loathing and shame. Finally, she decides she’ll correct her life’s trajectory. She commits to a life of extreme altruism. She runs around doing bone-headed, ill-thought out, terrible things in the name of altruism. Finally, right before bombing her former employer’s shop with molotov cocktails (altruistic, see?), she discovers the truth behind Stevie’s suicide; nothing to do with her after all. But that doesn’t really help her because no matter how many second chances life is determined to give her she can’t help but make a royal mess of everything and eventually is killed in a horrible accident.
But in a terrible mixup, a drunken Death sends the wrong Kimberley to Heaven. Kimberley with two “e”s heads up the stepladder to whatever angelic choirs hide in the clouds above. And then he has a spare Kimberly on his hands. With God off causing an earthquake in Peru, and no spare gods available, Death asks the Grim Reader to decide Kimberley’s fate.
“Right then fair impartial reader ROLL THE DIE!” I yell up at the lampshades/your eyeballs.
You roll the die doing as you’re told.*
If you roll a ONE, Kimberly is sent to Heaven. Turn to page 229.
If you roll a TWO, Kimberly is reincarnated. Turn to page 270.
If you roll a THREE, Kimberly becomes a ghost. Turn to page 317.
If you roll a FOUR, Kimberly is resurrected. Turn to page 339.
If you roll a FIVE, Kimberly rests in peace. Turn to page 371.
If you roll a SIX, Kimberly burns in Hell. Turn to page 413.
Nice one. Have fun. Take care. See you soon.**
*Dearest Grim Reader, if you don’t happen to own any dice, simply pull out six of your teeth and label them one to six with saliva-resistant marker. Then, pop them back in your mouth, shuffle them around with your tongue, and spit out one at random. Failing that just pick a fuckin’ number from 1 to 6 then.
** But not too soon, I swear.
I really like novels that challenge the form of the novel. I like it when authors play with format, typography and break the fourth wall. I understand not everyone gets into that but I like the spirit of experimentation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it falls short. And then there’s this novel. Stylistic gimmicks abound. Like suggesting the reader just stop reading there, leaving five blank pages to think about it like a hardcopy drum roll, or having two characters narrate simultaneously in two columns, which Milward dryly advises should be read by removing one’s eyeballs and allowing them to “roll down the page simultaneously”. And like scientists we have to accept that there’s no such thing as a failed experiment. So let’s focus on the content. To be fair, I enjoyed the gag about removing your eyeballs and Death telling me to pull six teeth out. Sometimes his social observations hit their mark:
“Many people come to the Capital to “find themselves” but, in fact, the Capital steals your identity over time: first, it messes with your dress sense, then it softens your accent, then it sours your sense of humour, then, before you know it your whole personality’s been pulverised.”
And sometimes it’s cringeworthy:
“I got halfway through the instruction booklet when, suddenly, I found myself spasming uncontrollably. I was vibrating. Pre-1990s, this might have been an epileptic seizure, but in this day and age it’s more likely just a phone call.”
A plague on those who use the phrase “in this day and age”.
Milward doesn’t seem sure what decade he’s set his novel in lurching between what seems very much like the late 1990s (which I’m pretty sure was the last time anyone cared that they had Snake on their phone) and then describing Kimberly’s dad as having died back in 2002. Kimberly isn’t entirely believable, her actions are unfathomable and ultimately, exhausted, I didn’t really care what happened to her. Milward creates some of the least sympathetic characters committed to page. And when it probably can’t get any more crass, it does.
But mostly, it all seems for nothing. Perhaps the point was buried down the bottom of one of the alternative endings I didn’t read (I couldn’t, honestly, I had to end this nonsense and after Hell I felt really quite queasy). But I suspect this novel is one that went horribly wrong for Milward, so ambitious it tumbled out all style and no substance.
Read this if: you have a strong stomach and the darkest sense of humour imaginable.