Well, here we are. I cycled and Tubed all over London this evening trying to get an early copy of Stylist, only to find that my housemate had one. Here is the (extremely nice) review from their Book Wars section at the back of the magazine. I’ll start with their verdict – but read on for the full review.
(You can also read the review of Perpetual Astonishment on Stylist’s website.)
The verdict: read the comic gem The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax
Exuberant is the word that comes to mind when describing this book. It’s one of those reads you can take an age to get through – simply because you find yourself re-reading joyous passages of comedy and revelling in the carefully constructed characters. One scene involving a murderer, a gym manager and a copy of The Cat In The Hat left one of our reviewers giggling helplessly. It’s a rare book that does this. Utterly recommended.
(And here’s the rest of the review…)
The Perpetual Astonishment vs Comfortably Awkward
Thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, independent publishing is in the spotlight, so we’re putting two new self-published titles to the test
The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax
Stylist.co.uk’s online writer Anna Brech backs The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax by Christopher Shevlin
Not many books make me laugh out loud, but The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax is one of them. Like Comfortably Awkward, it stars a hapless and bumbling lead – Jonathon – who is struggling to come to terms with life in the urban fast lane. But while I found Albert Ferenzo’s never-ending neuroses over corporate life in New York grating, Jonathon’s foot-in-mouth persona is wonderfully endearing and acts as a perfect launch pad for the rest of the story.
As with Albert, life seems fated against Jonathon; he’s the kind of guy whose every word and move is sabotaged by a hopeless – and touchingly comic – self-doubt. This changes when a chance meeting with cocky womaniser Lance plunges him into a murky world of political intrigue and turns his humdrum life in London on its head. Jonathon idolises the cool-but-shallow Lance (he imagines Lance being born, nonchalantly tossing his umbilical cord over his shoulder “like an offal scarf”) and author Shevlin plays on the contrast with a brilliant, pacey text that is both surreal and hilarious.
A colourful side cast of offbeat characters includes “glamour grannie” Jane, a string of bent politicians and policemen and an ever-present murderer who dotes on his toddler daughter. Then there’s apparent lesbian Rachel, Jonathon’s love interest; the scenes between these two are a delight as Jonathon attempts to overcome his shyness in the face of chronic lust. Kenny Scudero’s characters in Comfortably Awkward are funny and flawed, but Shevlin’s light touch makes the black comedy of it all even sharper.
One of the toughest parts of self-publishing must be the editing and it’s here that Shevlin really shines. While it’s easy to get a bit lost in Scudero’s first-person narrative, Shevlin’s story is tightly delivered and packs a punch. It starts from the perspective of a murdered woman (contentedly losing weight through blood loss) and ends with a dramatic police chase through London. Even with some absurd twists, it’s nail-biting stuff and it’s the combination of comedy and action that makes Jonathon Fairfax a winner for me.
Stylist‘s production editor Francesca Brown on Comfortably Awkward by Kenny Scudero
Last week, Penguin took a big step into self-publishing by buying Author Solutions for $116 million. Proof that there is a massive appetite for new voices in fiction. Self-publishing is being hailed as democracy in action – people discovering talented authors who may otherwise get lost in the maze of traditional book publishing.
However, finding these gems isn’t easy. Christopher Shevlin’s book was recommended to me by a friend while Kenny Scudero featured in a Guardian article about self-publishing successes.
Unfortunately out of the two books, it was The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax that I fell for. It reminded me of a very English Carl Hiaasen – filled with throwaway detail, joyously funny dialogue and slightly absurd characters. And while Comfortably Awkward has an engaging premise – an intern rails against big business; a never-ending sea of robotic backbiting and self-serving workers in New York’s corporate world – it failed to live up to what I hoped would be an American Psycho or Fight Club-inspired satire. Never has a book that tackles the vicious cycle of consumerism and capitalism been more timely but unfortunately Scudero never made me care about his hero, Albert Ferenzo. Albert’s anger made me side with his poor co-workers and girlfriend rather than him.
As Anna critically points out, it’s the lack of editing that lets Scudero down. He is obviously passionate about his writing but without an objective editor reining back elaborate plot twists and cutting out repetition, it is somewhat confused. However, this is only Scudero’s first novel at the age of 22 – he’s currently working on his second book and there is plenty of time for him to find a more considered style – and, thanks to self-publishing, the chance for him to get it out there.
- Two stars out of five for Comfortably Awkward, by Kenny Scudero
- Four stars out of five for The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax