Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Darkening Light

Ted Curtis The Darkening Light (2014)

Many centuries ago I printed The Devil Lives in Hackney, a short story by Ted Curtis in some fanzine or other, and still regard it as easily amongst the better things I've ever helped foist upon a largely indifferent public, so I am possibly not the most impartial critic. I knew Ted, or at least knew of Ted as someone living in the same house as Dave Fanning and Andy Martin, best known as formerly of The Apostles who were by that point members of a band called Academy 23, which I'd just joined. I was sat in Dave's room, watching him draw and talking about comics as Ted maintained a silent mohicaned presence on the other side of the room. I'll be honest, it was odd. He didn't seem hostile, but it was like being in a room with an aquarium containing a fish of such volume that you couldn't help but wonder what it might be thinking.

'That Ted is a bit quiet, isn't he?' I later remarked.

'A bit pissed more like,' Dave explained.

I was surprised, because Ted had neither said nor done anything I would have identified as the actions of someone under the refreshing influence of cold drinks. I hadn't even noticed a tell-tale can or bottle, and Dave's hypothesis was illustrated on another, similar occasion, identical to the first but for Ted somehow falling out of the chair without having apparently made any preliminary effort to stand, before departing with think I might go back to bed for a bit, which is possibly the most I've ever heard him say in one go. Once again, I hadn't even realised he'd had a few, and I'd found it impossible to assess the situation, or to imagine what he could have been thinking.

I suspect he may have been thinking thoughts that felt like this novel, a couple of days in the life of vegan anarchist punks in 1986 as they visit that London to attend a Concrete Sox, Eat Shit and Heresy gig, and their van breaks down. It's almost a stream of consciousness that probably could have been written as one continuous hundred page sentence without too much difference to the tone - crappy homebrew, crappy vans, wrists cut on broken windows, self-loathing, amyl nitrate, hangovers, bright orange diarrhoea with no toilet paper, and sharing a glue bag with the bloke out of Conflict. It could have gone horribly wrong, as novels with any sort of musical or subcultural element often do - here thinking mainly of Irvine Welsh rushing to tell the members of his writers' group about the junkie he met in the pub and all the great new material he's harvested - but Ted Curtis doesn't appear to give a shit about impressing the reader with his arcane knowledge, or waving used needles under the noses of whoever is likely to take the most lucrative offence; rather, he just gets on with it and tells the story, and the rest is up to us.

It isn't exactly Bukowski or Billy Childish in tone, but it makes similar moves in describing extreme situations without the hysterics that might get in the way of our understanding them, regardless of how well we may or may not identify. It's not so much Thoreau's men leading lives of quiet desperation, as lives of extremely noisy desperation, seasoned with a reasonable dose of humour of the kind that doesn't need to stick on a red nose and pull faces in order to get its point across; and it feels quite profound, in that even if you've never had an argument about burnt tofu burgers or shat yourself in the corner of a beaten up van, then you should nevertheless still be able to appreciate what The Darkening Light says about the bullshit we all put ourselves through, sometimes because it seems like the only option. It's the best thing I've read in a while by quite some margin, and it's nice to know that at least someone is still writing real books. Buy this fucker immediately!

And buy this fucker immediately from here.


  1. Nice review, as ever, Lawrence. As instructed, I bought the fucker immediately.

  2. Hi Lawrence, thanks for your stellar review, and for the amazon one; that really helps. In keeping with my taciturn big fish public persona, I will say little more than that, except that my memory is of meeting with you in Dave’s room, him drawing, you chatting, me asking you if you’d heard of Bukowski. What I thought happened was (I had a broken leg then), I sat there drinking until it was time to crash, swung on my crutches toward a closed door and went face first into it. Dave: “Ted, you’ve got to open the door first man!” I had heard of you before when Dave told me about Sid watches telly and showed me Brian Moore’s head. Then another memory of meeting you & Rob McElwee at the garage (venue) after I had stopped drinking for about a year, I think it was a memorial gig for Pete Shaughnessy, the ceramic hobs. But your account works much better. Thanks again. And thanks for buying Niko, hope you like it.

    1. Glad you liked it and hope it gets a few bums on seats. I tend to remember things as wry teatime sitcoms in which we're all played by either Terry Scott or Richard Briers, so I wondered about that, and had totally forgotten about your leg. Also wondered if it might seem a bit insulting using that anecdote but I figured you've fessed up to more humiliating moments in the book and probably wouldn't take it as insulting. I actually checked some of the bands out by the way - remember Heresy and Concrete Sox as names in fanzines but never heard the music, must admit I actually quite liked the Concrete Sox I found on YouTube. Look forward to the next one.