I reviewed Richard Cabut’s last book, Dark Entries, earlier this year. Now he’s back with a drug-fuelled beat/punk, love/hate story.
Robert and Marlene are the last of the original punks, entwined in a relationship in mid-80s Camden. Marlene is filled with self-loathing, while Robert dreams of possibilities that seem so close but are simultaneously unreachable. Cabut’s 80s are evoked through a haze of speed and acid and sex and squalor, and he ignores the shortcut of kitsch pop-culture references (“outside, they recognised that the world had somehow, while they were dreaming of poetry and chaos, assumed its form of consumer and market culture”). Our couple eke out their existence in the last glimmers of light from punk’s 1977 explosion.
The pair – especially Marlene, haunted by her dead father and the ghosts of old boyfriends – are caught in stasis, unable to grow up: “punk was…a way of stopping your past from becoming your future. But from 1976 onwards Marlene was trapped in that punk moment – like a fly in piss coloured amber.”
The story is seen mostly from Robert’s viewpoint, one that darts back and forward in time as he tries to inject a sense of narrative into a situation that reeks of stasis (although there is scepticism towards the notion of plot – “if nothing happens, everything becomes meaningful”). This effort to find narrative becomes the search for the means to tell the story itself, a nice po-mo touch.
Like (say) Kerouac, it’s shot through with sadness. Not just the comedown, but the inability to bridge the gulf between the enlightened moment of Beatitude, and the bleak surroundings you exist in the rest of the time: “[Jarman’s] Jubilee led Robert to think that even if there is pattern and substance in the universe, this substance is meant to be hallucinatory and arcane.”
The postscript contains diary entries from 1988-89 which confused me (though they reinforce the book’s quasi-autobiographical nature), but perhaps they’re intended to show how – once away from Marlene – Robert’s life found impetus. I’m not sure how necessary they are, but it’s a minor complaint (and you could skip them).
Looking For a Kiss is not as gleefully, blackly, comic as Dark Entries, but Cabut’s prose once again zips along, carrying its erudition lightly. He writes with an immediacy I can only admire, and (although the sex is graphic, it isn’t gratuitous) a brutal candour I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to put on the page. There’s also a handy reading list at the back that I liked, and which is a good primer for avant-garde/outsider-lit.
My copy was supplied for review.