Joyless House Book Reviews

An Argument for G.H. Neale’s Arriba


I was afforded the opportunity to read Graeme Neale’s as of yet unpublished second novel, Arriba – this by the author himself – and now feel compelled to make a case for its proper dissemination – this, I suppose, by a sense of respect for the integrity of the muse. If you will.


I was a believer in the cause before reading word one of Arriba. Last summer, I happened upon, or perhaps was led by sophisticated algorithms, to Graeme’s Archipelago: a Problem. I was knocked on my Yankee arse by that one! It was the most high-minded and erudite contemporary novel that I had ever read, frankly. It would have fit better in the time of Joyce and Pound, than the time of reality television and internet memes. That fact may go a long way in explaining the novel’s relative obscurity. Sadly.


So I dug into Arriba with the highest hopes, and I’ll have you know (all of you!) that I was not disappointed. There is plenty of fuel here for the most esoteric mind trips; expansive expounding on fine art, history and architecture, yet Arriba is a tighter novel than Archipelago. The plot is more discernible, the action more linear, and the characters more defined, which, I believe, gives the psychological dissections that are the meat of Neale’s offering more credibility and weight. Let’s dive in.


Arriba follows four friends on vacation in Madrid. They are: a dissipated architect and his humorless, kleptomaniacal wife, teaming with an eccentric, young artist and his pregnant, Jesus-loving partner. Intertwined is the prosaic predicament of an African girl sold into sex-slavery in Spain. The action is basically a lot of bar/museum/café-hopping, colored by colorful soliloquies. Questions of identity, sexual, societal, national and existential, preoccupy throughout, driving the most dramatic turns in the novel. And there are some jaw-droppers in here. None that I wish to spoil, however.


Love and morality are predominant themes. Morality, it is proposed, is an arbitrary course in the intrepid feast of being; but take heed, skipping one’s veggies might ultimately make one disgusting and obvious, bloated with gout. Then too, too ascetic a diet might make one mad, mad for the mystery of the obsessions of the flesh. Oh, it is a right good and randy time, this Arriba! Just punching out this paltry paean is getting me excited to read the thing again!

But my gushing is only worth so much, after all. Perhaps we should have some of the author’s own words – for the record. Here is an excerpt from a chapter examining Velázquez’s famous painting, Las Meninas:


. . . What is most beautiful is always the most unfathomably deep. Everything that can be imagined can be made real. Everything happened in that picture, everything. Everything was happening all at once as everything rushed around in mathematical parallelograms. Everyone came and went up the staircases and up and down its depths in lifts after seeing it or on their way to see it.


. . . Speculatively, it was a paradox and whilst a masterpiece, it was questionable whether such a paradox was of any use. Although, of course, one could equally say that within this singular painting, one where the physical world was combined with the cerebral, the intellectual dignity of art endured and remained above such considerations. Velázquez was created for the wonder of the world. He ennobled himself with this painting. He created a relic. He created an allegory. He, and it, will survive.



But lest you think Arriba is all highbrow, fine art fondling, let’s skip ahead a few chapters to find our most foul friend Arthur at the pinnacle of his crapulence:


Bleeeuuurrrggghh!! Sploooooooooosh !!


A miasmal slime of ells jettisoned out of the hot orifices of Arthur’s either ethered end. Adrenaline sped through his veins and plumes of dark stench solidified with mucus-mired lumps, spitted sludge and spat out etceteras of expectorated excreta voided into the two ceramics, which were, as said, in their respective positions: anterior and posterior: perfectly placed to fortuitously harvest: from head, a vomitus outpour of spirited slurry; from rectum, a loosed hysteria of anally ruptured listeria, similarly smelt with salmonella evilly spilt.


He wiped his mouth with the soiled edge of his favourite fish shirt and pleasingly noted the extra capacity that his body now had to continue its hobby of the guzzle.


And that’s enough to make old Leopold Bloom blush.


I understand it is Mr. Neale’s intention to have this book published properly. I sincerely wish him success in this endeavor. But that is not enough! I sincerely wish the United States was not being run by a crude huckster of doom. But wishes and buts won’t pry the oligarchs’ hands from the levers of power. What needs to happen, for G.H.’s sake and for the survival of the novel as an art form, is we who are interested need to shout our informed opinions and valid endorsements from the rooftops. We need to patronize writers who are good. Just as bemoaning our political lot won’t change our political reality, reading by flashlight, under the covers, the books we love won’t keep them coming. We need to have a voice. Actively seek out what is good. Preach what is good and demand it. For starters, go here: and buy Archipelago. Dig it. Wallow in it. Rejoice. Then review it.


Follow . Buy the ticket; take the ride. Demand Arriba. Tell everyone under the sun and on twitter that the world needs Arriba even if it doesn’t deserve it. Make some noise, if only because I want to hold the damn thing in my hands!

One weekend, Arthur Adolphus Mackintosh, a garrulous bombast, his wife and two of his friends fly to Madrid for a city break to celebrate his fiftieth birthday.  As they carouse the Calles and Plazas of that city we read of their meditations upon truth, art, religion, sanity and other epistemic, limbless philosophies.


Encounters with prostitutes, blind people and pale death perforce happen within this bitter tale.  For this most novel novel is a dialectic of discovery, conjoined with explanation, wrapped in an autobiography.  In caprice and caricature, the author captures reflections of homologous hominids in a portrait of one particular monumental but, ultimately, meaningless moment.  He attempts to juxtapose no consequence with some, using the device of three or four arbitrarily chosen people: which, based in part, and sometime unkindly, upon real people, who in their real world were just as freed and just as flawed with their own failures of internal logic, denial and syntactical non-existence of being, as the characters here.  For that is an author’s task, is it not, to reveal what is real, that which hides behind cloistered, back-stories. 


Persuaded that the censure of human error and vices, the peculiar function of art, can be likewise extended to the non-plastic, the authour here has extracted from innumerable extravagant vices and follies, a commonality of human society, those that on one hand invite ridicule, on the other an indulgence of his fancy.  It is, hopefully, assumed without temerity that the shortcomings will be easily excused.  Within these selections the universal seems most apropos of its end, united as it were, with the shared circumstance that nature provides.  From these convictions, ingeniously interpreted, are results which should not please travesty but earn instead the servile epithet of inventor.


And even though he knows how you love your books, you may find this one stuffed-up with unpalatable content but such is the repugnant nature of life, wherewith this is a mirror of cold observance, for this is more than a travelogue, journal, perambulation and kaleidoscopic collision of language.  This is reality, and reality is grim, not a fairy tale.


That is the hard sell that you may find on the back of a novel.  That is the hard sell you have found here.


For Arriba is a very queer book, unbearably queer perhaps.

New Reviews

Junkyard Lucy

by: Tony Nesca

Follow: @ScreaminSkullPr



Junkyard Lucy is the new short story collection from Tony Nesca of Screamin’ Skull Press. It might be Nesca’s best work yet. Tony has achieved one thing in his fifteen-plus years warring for the cause of independent literature that many writers never approach, and it makes reading anything by him a pleasure: he’s developed his own distinct voice. As in his past works, he eschews punctuation and traditional structure, resulting in free-flowing, musical verse. His style is instantly recognizable, and Junkyard Lucy will certainly please and temporarily sate Nesca’s fans. But there’s more here: Tony turns his lens outward in a few stories resulting in some of his most memorable scenes to date.


The themes of teenage angst, rock n’ roll rebellion, and sexual exploration are hit upon once again. Then these familiar themes are extrapolated in more mature pieces exploring the disillusionment of adulthood. Time strains love. The demands of the workaday world strain the soul and test one’s mettle. There is sadness and desperation, but also, there are sublime moments when love stands the test of time and Nesca’s characters come to grips with the lives they’ve chosen. Very real shit. It’s rather a beautiful thing when we can look at life without flinching, finding a kind of peace without giving in to despair or to the soma offered by modern consumer society.


My favorite stories were the ones where Nesca ventures away from the autobiographical, and explores varied characters.  In the story Claudia, we meet a woman who makes her money by offering slightly off-beat sexual pleasures. It’s a great exploration of individual conscience in the milieu of vast popular hypocrisy.  The Barber is a sad-sweet, achingly human tale that connects us to the past and shows a deep respect for the wisdom of experience. Both these stories are TIMELY, baby. It takes a writer like Nesca, who is not seduced by the trappings of modernity, to hit upon the crucial questions of our time, and display our modern condition in a truthful, sane light.


I tip my cap. Well done, once again Mr. Nesca. The future looks bright after all – if you’re into the right shit.

Everything Inc.

My Best Customer

by: Geoff Sturtevant

Follow: @Flexfiction 

Geoff Sturtevant is a damn professional. He is prolific. He is good. He's subversive, with a dark sense of humor, but has an on-point accessible style. Forgive me for bringing up the overbearing old prick's name . . . but he reminds me a lot of Steve King. We'll compare careers after a thousand books or so. Here are reviews of Geoff's latest:

Everything Inc.


Another sublime Orwellian nightmare from Mssr. Sturtevant. Geoff has a knack for making this reoccurring bad dream seem mundane and inevitable, and all the creepier for it. We are paying for it in installments with our apathy and our laziness. Everything Inc. is just a slight caricature of the pervasive corporate monopolies that already handle most of the mundane details of our lives. They grow strong by selling convenience; fat mammals that we are, there's nothing we like better . . . This story seems like an extrapolation of Sturtevant's earlier piece, Return to the Dirt - which you should buy as well!!

Not all gloom and doom though . . . well, subject matter-wise . . . but as always with Sturtevant, the pacing is great; the characters are well done, the protagonist sympathetic. High quality writing with a sardonic sense of humor and a social conscience. What more do you want?!


My Best Customer


Five stars, that's right! Mssr. Sturtevant really gives his inner-sicko full reign here. This story is short and there's no let up in the tension - or the gross-out sexual/violent pleasures. Also, as the reader will get the correct impression that this author is not above killing off his protagonist, the ending is always in question. I will only say that said ending was a ripping good time, a bloody good show, oh hell, it really delivered!

Incidentally, I deal with a delivery guy at work (from a certain brown-nazi-replica-uniformed company of great eminence) who, between hearty bro-fives, likes to let on that he's received a trove of fantastical favors from female customers over the years. Never admitted doing any of it through the bars of a doggie kennel, however . . . Anyway, I felt like I read this story with special insight. Bravo!