Sunday, 3 May 2009

Daniel Davies - Isle of Dogs (Serpents Tail 2009)

Daniel Davies' nod to sexually transgressive culture, in this case dogging, is essentially a morality tale about broken Britain in the suburbs, poking at the CCTV culture that pushes certain lifestyles into the fringes, with bubbling paranoia and a lack of understanding/compassion being the ultimate fallout. 'Isle of Dogs' features a frustratingly rubbish beginning and ending featuring the author 'breaking the fourth wall' and claiming to have cobbled the novel together through the diaries and emails of the protagonist, Jeremy Shepherd, that is incredibly clunky and unnecessary and means that it begins and ends in underwhelming fashion, a shame because the main action is so satisfying.

This is a dark morality tale about Jeremy Shepherd, one of those London pricks you always hear about, good media job, misanthropic, laddish and promiscuous to a fault, bordering on a narcissistic nymphomania. He quits his job when he realises how futile and shit it is, ending up living with his mum and dad in the home counties, working a dead end civil service job where the biggest excitement is arranging meetings in order to arrange meetings. Bored and tempering his nymphomania, he enters into the car park world of dogging to satisfy his needs amongst fellow consenting adults, while the small town society around him fails to understand. Clunky depictions of racial violence and attitudes to perversions fly off his cold hard exterior. He doesn't feel anything and what we get is a 'Crash'-esque cold depiction of the scene, methodical and meticulously drawn, describing how dogging operates, how people connect and communicate, how they protect themselves from the law and from the all-seeking CCTV and the codes and ethics that make up the scene, from signals that you can participate to the etiquette of what doggers should bring to the party. It's a fascinating insight into a subculture that is both mocked and feared by red-top papers. Davies is clinical in his depiction of the action and ultimately, the consequences of engaging in illicit sex all around us. The book is short and zips along, never quite getting under its protagonist's skin, instead choosing to be a dogging bible. We see how relationships and webs develop and the intrusion of the press when it's discovered that one of the doggers is a minor celebrity. We see how people temper love and lust and actual interaction. But we never get to really see Jeremy Shepherd, and during the final violent climax we see the acts are misunderstood by locals. Ultimately, what we learn that this is happening everywhere, probably round the corner from us. In the awkward epilogue we get a strange coda to the action that manages to undo all the work the rest of the book has done. It's two word ending will either make you tut loudly or laugh at its ridiculousness but it is neither realistic within the universe created nor funny.

Otherwise, a solid depiction of an activity made famous by Phil Mitchell.

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