THE Rebel’s Sketchbook is an impressive collection of loosely -linked short stories which transgressively straddle the grim everyday world of the unemployed or those on zero-hours contracts and an invariably macabre alternative existence.
The most frightening aspect is that Rupert Dreyfus’s characters slip from the first into the second on the outcome of a single decision.
Dreyfus shows us a world dominated by vain politicians, witless synthetic celebrities and the sex-crazed and unlovable rich.
In each story, the first person protagonist — usually male — is challenged by his oppressors to go just one step beyond the normal with wonderfully bizarre outcomes that are both sinister and comic.
The writer recommends that each story is approached in sequence. Being something of a rebel myself I ignored that advice, with no discernible harm to my enjoyment.
In Fingered, a bellboy accedes to a pop duo’s plot to scare their corrupt manager with calamitous consequences, while Martha recounts what happens to another youth with too little money and too much time on his hands to become an escort with a no-sex clause — or so he thought.
In Hatchet Job, an unemployed gamer volunteers to use his console skills to become a first-time hitman. Outrage sees Daily Mail-style readers, wound up by their tabloid’s anti-benefits editorials, turn into zombies who target the flesh of the unemployed.
Probably the lightest and most obviously satirical story is Growth, where a newly elected Prime Minister is confined to his hotel room as he and his team struggle to deal with the fact that he’s developed a penis on his forehead.
Dreyfus writes with vitriolic energy and a direct and urgent use of language. In describing the misery of the poor in our society he’s as good as DD Johnston, in my view the best British left-wing fiction author around.
But Dreyfus marries this with a turning-of-the-tables technique akin to an Edgar Allen Poe short story or a tale by the Brothers Grimm.
All of the characters in this collection demonstrate that no matter how desperate a situation may be, it is only by taking action that any change will come about.
However, the use of the singular apostrophe in the book’s title shows that there is only ever an individualistic response presented to us and never a collectivist one or one based on solidarity.
Nonetheless, this is a scorchingly brilliant book and Dreyfus is an authentic and vital writer.