The anti-hero of Ian Ayris’s novella is a hitman with a predilection for Shostakovich and literature and a hatred for Wagner. He loves his daughter and is hated by his wife. He is a desperate figure and a case in point of a characterisation that is becoming Ayris’s forte: the vulnerable locked inside a wall of rage, unable to come out because of his environment. Ayris shaves the surfaces of his character to dig into the reasons he ended up this way.
Ayris is a skilled portrayer of troubled men, who is able to balance a realistic portrait with a sympathetic one. He also shows the class system still at work in modern ‘classless Britain’: Dean is an outsider, a hit man who loves classical literature. With his panache for the inherent contradictions in characters the author kicks off this superb novella with his usual confessional style:
“My name is Jason Dean. And I’m lyin in bed. Beth, that’s the missus, she’s lyin next to me, far away as she can get, snorin gentle like a baby. Love watchin her sleep, I do. Even though she hates me fuckin guts.”
We are thrust into Jason’s anguish, his daily grind of tedium and struggle, a cockney Ivan Denisovich watchful of totalitarian extremes. From the bacon sarnies to the cold weather, this is an intense personal study in despair, and it is also humorous one.
A theme that preoccupies Ayris as a writer and one he conveys with great skill, is the genesis of pathologies. He conveys an essential innocence at the centre of his darker
characterisations This is a brilliant study on hopelessness delivered with great heart.
“None of these poor bastards at the other tables ain’t goin nowhere for ages. They stick it out long as they can, gettin all the heat there is from Pete’s tea. Pete never throws em out, they just go of their own accord. It’s like they can’t keep from the outdoors too long, like bein indoors does something to em, reminds em of where they once was. They was all kids once, see, all babies, probably loved and cuddled and talked about by those what loved em with glistenin eyes. But that was a long time ago for these lot, and their kind. Gets till the good stuff becomes painful and you surround yourself with cold and dark and pain so as you can pretend it’s always been that way.”
As Dean reflects on how his environment has changed, we see that what Ayris has cleverly done is created a portrait of a prisoner, Dean is a prisoner of his own anger and sense of injustice. He has created his own totalitarian world, hence the title. References to football and contemporary culture blend like colours on a canvas as Dean argues with his life. It is brilliantly done.