A Review of Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane
Stewart Home’s latest novel, Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane, is a brilliant satire on academia that begins simple enough then slowly devolves into a blood bath, at least in the deranged mind of the protagonist. The story follows Charlie Templeton, a cultural studies professor at the City University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (CUNT) as he strives to improve his position in the faculty, finish his movie script, Zombie Sex Freaks, and occasionally lecture to a class of half-interested students. But Charlie has problems. Rampant drug use has destroyed any sense of identity, time, and reality that he may have had. He frequently forgets who he is, where he is, what he is teaching (often mid-class) and often confuses his wife Mandy with Mary-Jane, his mistress (when he recognizes them at all). Charlie denies there is a problem with the retort, “I’m high on theory, not drugs.”
None of this stops Charlie from his dreams of being a triple threat – screenwriter, professor and head of the cultural studies department. And he is willing to sabotage his students and murder his fellow faculty to achieve this end. He meets filmmaker Sue Williams, who is on campus documenting the decline of higher education, and the two decide to remake Man Bites Dog, with Charlie in the lead role and the other faculty as victims. His ascension up the ranks would be caught on tape, for posterity and for art’s sake. Needless to say, things don’t go completely as planned.
This is played out against the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London in 2005. Charlie eventually believes that he has discovered the hidden meaning of these bombings. He concludes that he needs to carry out his own suicide bombing at Holy Island. In the end, Charlie navigates what he believes is a not-so-glorious afterlife, or, more appropriately, a zoned-out reality brought on by drug psychosis and/or prolonged immersion in an academic setting.
Does this sound heavy? Don’t be fooled. The novel is filled with dark humor. It is not only a satire on the university lifestyle, but on the futility of terrorism. Home makes fun of the reactionary elements that make up both of those systems. Some of the humor comes from Charlie and the fact that he is becoming unhinged. His classes are equally as deranged, when he remembers what he is supposed to be teaching, that is. For instance, the syllabus for his film course is comprised of Eurosleaze classics such as Oasis of the Dead and Cannibal Holocaust. Not exactly the Canon. The students do not share his enthusiasm for these films (their cultural references do not go beyond Coldplay and the Blair Witch Project) and react like zombies, numb and blank-faced.
Throw in a radical Buddhist cell who are running a currency counterfeiting ring, Charlie’s inability to have sex with anyone who is conscious, a side discussion about the Belle de Jour blogger (an in-joke as some believed Stewart Home to be Belle de Jour), and a group of ghost punks (punk ghosts?) who reveal the Pagan source of the London bombings, and you have the making of an instant classic.
What I find interesting about Home’s novels is keeping up with all of the references he throws at you. They always lead you down new avenues to explore. For instance, 69 Things to do with a Dead Princess led me to Ann Quin, while Red London led me to Richard Allen. This novel opens up the doors to a whole range of obscure horror and art films, not to mention to other artists, such as Andre Stitt.
As always, the writing is tight and focused. Home has a no-nonsense, direct style that is readable and moves the action along. No flowery prose or extraneous words filling out the page. This is a brilliant read. Highly recommended. Fans of Stewart Home will groove to the story. And it’s a great introduction to those new to him. So, what are you waiting for?
|Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane
by Stewart Home