“Nihil awoke to find he was out of vodka and was leaning against a tree smoking a cigarette. It was really all going to be downhill from here.”
In the noisy self-published ebook marketplace, you’re often left with no choice but to judge a flimsy digital tome by its cover, especially when its author refuses to distil his misanthropic manifesto into a user-friendly blurb. So what have we got to go on here?
A title that alludes to Eliot, but turns out to be a Bon Jovi album track. An author chasing alphabetical favouritism with what we can only assume is a non-de-plume. A felt-tip drawing that resembles nothing so much as that time Moe’s Bar got a “weird for the sake of weird” postmodern facelift. That he didn’t even bother to colour in. Turn over the digital leaves and see A.A. Aardvark’s flair for fictional names continue with a protagonist called ‘Nihil’ wading through an unimaginatively-described dystopia, and these first impressions bear out.
“Nihil opened his eyes and saw that he was standing within a jungle.”
These assorted chapters are varied enough to count as postcards, I’ll give him that. It’s nice to get out of the city occasionally and get some air when you’re choking on those relentless cigarettes our anti-hero non-conformistly keeps buying from convenience stores. But if you turn over the postcards to read the back, you may end up regretting it.
Nihil’s stream-of-consciousness resembles a spiritual journey at times, interrupted by chapters where he literally does nothing except smoke, drink and curse the futility of it all. There’s no kind of shape or reason to the story, it seems to depend on what the author felt like the day he wrote it, whether that’s random acts of violence, unravelling a perfect Imagist poem until only banal metaphors and tedious repetition remain, or really sticking it to innocuous logic puzzles. I don’t really know what this book is, but I know what I make of Nihil. He’d probably agree.
“Nihil sat in front of a desk in a police station.”
We’re supposed to think Nihil’s a prick, right? He’s writing his own book within the book (to keep things inventive), but that’s where the author surrogacy seems to end. I imagine he’d have some choice insults to throw at Aaaaaron if he was aware of the purple prose billowing around him as he slouches along on his quest to nowhere. Mr. A’a here is trying to broach some profound topics and you’re undermining him every time you open your stupid mouth. The recurring feud between Nihil and the devil doesn’t take long to descend to low-energy Roadrunner/Wile E Coyote skits.
And you know, I wouldn’t mind any of this if it was funny, insightful or just weird for the sake of weird. But the prevailing mood is hate, and that’s a chore to get through even at less than 100 pages. At least in angsty punk albums you’ve got three chords and a rousing chorus to keep you going, here there’s just the author’s incongruous poetry dropping in completely out of nowhere to interrupt the lack of action.
Maybe it helps if you’re drinking along. And if you hate everything. The one positive is that at least all the animals come out unscathed.