13 November 2016

Andrew Asibong: Mameluke Bath (2013)

I read somewhere that Dr Andrew Asibong's favourite writers are Kafka, Marie NDiaye and, er, Stephen King. His PhD was titled 'Metamorphosis and the Métèque', and he has an interest in Haitian culture. A reader might guess from this that a novel written by Asibong may involve horror, the outsider, sudden changes, maybe zombies and certainly a general all-round weirdness. He or she would be correct, although there's much more in Mameluke Bath, Asibong's first and only novel so far.

This novel is also very funny, sometimes staggering in its complexity, and incidentally a pop music (and to some extent film) anorak's delight. If you live in the East Midlands or have spent any time there (like Asibong who was born in the Peak District and worked at the University of Nottingham), you can also exercise the train spotting gene: Mameluke Bath recalls Matlock Bath with its Heights of Abraham (here Gallicised to the Heights of Rocamadour), and the 'truly dreadful' villages of Darley Dale and Whatstandwell (only briefly mentioned in passing) aren't even given a name change; however, although St Pauly (where much of the novel is set) might initially suggest the St Ann's area in Nottingham, it is evident that St Pauly represents Nottingham itself, with its reference to 'the oldest pub in England, or so they say' being called 'Ye Olde Road to Damascus' (Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem) before 'yellow brick' was added between 'Olde' and 'Road' and the place turned into 'the glitziest gay bar in the East Midlands'; other references to 'proto-anarchist forest bandits of the twelfth century' (Robin Hood and his band), the Council House, Theatre Royal, Market Square, university lake, etc, loudly scream 'Nottingham'.

I'll not attempt to go into the plot, except to say that it involves Christie Smithkin, a 39-year-old PhD student at the university who, seeking to get out of her financial mess by mentoring Congolese asylum seeker Mukelenge, who already has the mentor Damon and anyway seems to know his way around the East Midlands far more than either of the others. Not too far into the book, it seemed obvious to me who Mukelenge really is: I think it's the words 'true identity' on the back cover that give him away.

Here, we have an intricate mix of immigrants 'paying' their way into the country by lice feeding from their open wounds, homosexuality (including a spirited visit to the Village in Manchester), mothers behaving (sexually) badly, and a whole lot more. It's time the tale were told.

An amazing book.


David Bingham said...

This one sounds very intriguing. I'll have to give it a go.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

My partner's bought me his (rather expensive) Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition, but she's making me wait until Xmas to read it.

David Bingham said...

You need something to get you through the Queen's Christmas message.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

We don't have a television anyway.

David Bingham said...

Very sensible. I always wondered how you managed to read and write so much; by cutting out the pointless distractions.