Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pg. 69: "Intoxicated"

John Barlow's novel Intoxicated "is a booze-swilling, cocaine-soaked novel of excess and madness in rural Yorkshire, set amid the great commercial developments of the late nineteenth century. It’s a novel about drinking, about invention and re-invention, about home, language... and soft drinks."

Having learned that much about the novel, of course I had to ask John to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:
Page sixty-nine of Intoxicated is the first page of chapter four. The previous chapters have seen humpback midgets thrown from speeding steam trains, wine-dribbling drunks in the gutter, a little Sherry-fuelled romance in a back street, a game of football played with someone’s head, and a temporary visit to non-alcoholic Heaven (or Hell).

After all that, the fourth chapter introduces us to the real heart of the story, in the person of George Brookes, a shy, dyslexic sixteen year-old boy. As the chapter opens he stands alone in the garden at Moorlands, the old family home. Without knowing it he also stands on the verge of a great whoosh of events that will propel him and his family towards greatness and tragedy.

Intoxicated takes the Victorian novel form and attempts to inject a touch of fun and magic. It describes the emergence of consumer brands towards the end of the nineteenth century, a time when ‘modern’ consumerism and marketing really took off. It is also a story of the kind of people who rose to prominence in that amazing period in history, when the old values of the early industrial revolution gave way to the brash, aggressive world of the brands we know today: Moxie, Dr Pepper’s and Coca-Cola were all launched at around this time, and Intoxicated spoofs the emergence of the soft drinks business with its own soda pop - Rhubarilla.

Is page sixty-nine representative of the whole novel? Well, I guess not, because the tone here is calm and reflective, with straightforward description occupying most of the page (it’s only half a page, actually, because it’s the first page of a chapter). Elsewhere in the book there is more drama, drunkenness and a good bit of slapstick. Incidentally, I stole the description of the garden from the novel John Halifax, Gentleman (1857) by Dinah Craik, a popular 19th century novelist. I intended to plagiarize the passage word for word - after all, Mrs Craik is long dead and well out of copyright. Her text, though, was very dense, and it got trimmed and re-set and mangled until even the lady herself would no longer recognize it. Nevertheless, thank you, Dinah.

Finally, I would be interesting to see a film of the book, because towards the end is a scene set in a nineteenth century musical hall (vaudeville), including what might be the world’s very first ‘reverse striptease’. That would be worth seeing.
Many thanks to John for the input.

Intoxicated is out in paperback February ’07 in the US, and will also be published in German, Italian, Russian and Polish.

Click here to read one excerpt from Intoxicated and here to read another.

The New York Times and the Washington Post reviewed the novel: click here to read these reviews and others.

Curious about what John is reading and reviewing? Click here.

He also hosts an interesting open blog. Here is his take on Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document, a novel I admire as well (and which reminded both of us of the movie Running On Empty.)

John Barlow is also the author of Eating Mammals--"Three novellas which are all in some strange way about mammals. And they are all based on fact."

Click here to read an excerpt from Eating Mammals, and here for some reviews.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue