Fun experimental novella Ironing by debut author Navajo is the perfect antidote to tired and predictable fiction.
Ironing is an experimental work of fiction. Don’t run away though — It’s also a triumph that has to be read.
A novella of 128 pages, perhaps the most striking thing about Ironing is that it ignores the normal bounds of structure which most contemporary novels follow.
Instead, it is an imaginative, bold work which sets out to present reality as it is actually lived.
The first thing you notice when reading the book is there are no chapters, and barely any paragraphs or line breaks. Everything is reported as it happen, in a fast and furious style that moves from one scene to another with no seemingly clear purpose or higher goal.
Then you’ll be amazed by the sheer number of diverse characters from all walks of life who flit in and out of the story, often never to be seen again.
This isn’t an accident, and it isn’t a case of bad editing. Our lives are just like this: chaotic, untidy, haphazard. Neat endings and narrative progression are, in themselves, largely works of fiction, and that isn’t the aim here.
As an example, Ironing begins with three young women — Ginie, Royanda and Emma — who are on a bus journey across London to see the greyhound races.
Their language is youthful and bounding with energy, full of realistic speech and swearing.
But almost as soon as their story begins, the narrative switches to focus on a new character, with a new journey, a fresh set of problems, and their own attitudes and manner of speech.
This is what then continues throughout the book, where we end up with a series of short snippets of stories, some told through other’s conversations, piled one on top of each other.
It’s the literary equivalent of a montage, but still — no matter how random they seem — all these mini-episodes, some more significant dramatically than others, take the reader on an unforgettable journey.
Many of the events depicted in the book concern the ordinary and mundane, taking between family members and friends, such as an argument in a kitchen or a kiss on a date, for instance.
In this way, it provides a much truer, and refreshing, representation of ordinary lives and ordinary people than you find in most novels, which are typically heavily constructed to fit a particular objective.
And yet, while there is no jaw-dropping plot to wow you, or heroic protagonist to root for, these fragmentary, small-scale stories are still gripping to read, ranging across the emotional spectrum from warm and tender, or funny and touching, to unnervingly shocking.
A lovely example of this is when a man called Mr Cohen is trying to woo a woman called Mrs Wójcik, whom he plays chess with.
He is no Kasparov whereas she only wants to date men who are good at chess and can beat her. In this extract, we begin with Mrs Wójcik’s thoughts – but then quickly switch over to Mr Cohen’s.
He always, always ignores the killer move and places his chess pieces in such a ridiculous position that I have no choice but to checkmate him’, Mrs Wójcik thinks to herself. Looking out of the bus window, Mr Cohen feels pleased with himself. ‘Ah, she tried to trap me again, trying to force me into a move that would obviously lead to my defeat, but I cleverly outwitted her, moving away from her trap.
Throughout, Navajo presses home that the idea that random actions and meetings are really what define us and which move life forward, rather than clearly defined objectives and pre-planning.
A darker example of this is towards the end of the book when three friends watch as a train crashes into a station without warning or any set up, mowing down a group of people.
Laying strewn, thrown in chaotic deformity. It cries, sobs and whimpers, a multitude of young bereft humanity. Limbs, organs, crushed and ripped, torn and cut, lumps, fluid, flesh, hair, blood, excrement lies dying, crying, screaming, howling, puking. The three look on at the scenery of terror, hideous outrage of innocent slaughter. Shocked into disbelief, their minds unable to fully comprehend the awfulness of the horrific tragedy, they stand motionless.
The book’s ending, returning to the three girls, is equally unexpected and shocking but then, Navajo would say, that’s just the way life is. Bad things happen all the time and life is but a lottery.
While this singular, ultra-realistic approach to fiction might not work for everyone, there’s no denying that Ironing is the work of an accomplished craftsman.
Having started out writing short stories for an online blogging site, he has learned how to extract every last drop from his prose. You might be curious about what happens next to characters but you never feel cheated.
He is also adept at painting characters succinctly. You barely get to know some before we’re on to the next set but yet the author captures enough of their personalities through their words and expressions to enable us to imagine how things would continue were we to follow their own individual storylines further.
It is because of this that I do not feel Ironing is in any way challenging to read, or an experimental book that should only be limited to literary snobs.
In fact, it’s completely the contrary. Perhaps I’d go as far as to say it’s the first democratic work of fiction I’ve come across. Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight; everyone gets their voice heard; and Navajo wants the reader to fill in the gaps to create their own story.
Read it with an open mind and you won’t be disappointed.
Ironing by Navajo is out now in paperback priced at £7.77. Visit www.Bookmarksbookshop.co.uk.