by Paul Burman
Gary Davison’s debut novel Fat Tuesday (PaperBooks 2008) is a fast-paced story that follows the helter-skelter life of Spencer Hargreaves who, having rejected the silver spoon shoved in his gob by an obnoxious and over-bearing father, escapes his past by leaving Britain for a backpacker’s Australia to embrace a grittier, hand-to-mouth existence instead. Not only that, but Spencer decides to shake things up a bit and, by the end of the first chapter, we learn that he and his three flat-mates are running a couple of intriguing scams and are ready to contemplate robbing the supermarket they work at.
The manner in which Spencer’s flirtation with petty crime escalates into planning a major robbery is adroitly managed in just a few pages, and it’s clear that Gary Davison has relished exploring and bringing to life all the facets of this aspect of the plot. There are technical details aplenty to convince the reader that the crime is meticulously planned and that we, the readers, are only a step away from being involved in the crime ourselves. However, what makes Spencer an even more interesting character to tag along with is that his motivation arises not from the need or desire for money, but partly to stick two fingers up at the memory of his father and partly for the buzz this kind of living affords him. In other words, what Gary Davison has done is create a character who declares: “To hell with the consequences, let’s see where this adventure will take me.” And it’s in this spirit that we accompany him on his journey.
I stood up. What the fuck was I thinking? If we got caught we’d get sent down for years. It wasn’t the money... Eight weeks ago my father died, leaving me everything. A week later I was off backpacking. I know that looks callous, but I’d been planning it for years to escape him and the stigma he had drowned us in. My father had no real friends, only arse lickers who worked for him, and I was destined to be his heir, but I’d fought against it my whole life... Anyway, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and his death was imminent, I had a choice. Stay in Newcastle, learn the ropes in the finance world, take over his company and be worshipped by pricks only after my money, or fuck off and start afresh, on my own, see what the world has to offer, make new friends and see where it leads me.
It leads him to walk on the wild side. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – and several places in between. Whilst Fat Tuesday explores, amongst other things, notions of friendship, betrayal, trust, and the risks a person might take to experience the rush of living dangerously, it also chronicles Spencer’s love for Amy and the helter-skelter of their relationship – his need to find acceptance and be loved for who he is rather than for what he might represent. And it’s a celebration too, of the bacchanalian orgy that is the Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras festival, which forms the setting for the second part of the novel.
It’s here that the writing cranked up a notch for me. In a book that sets a cracking pace from the very beginning and spares little time (thank goodness) for long bouts of introspection, the description of Fat Tuesday shows Gary Davison at his most dynamic. He paints a vibrant picture of the masquerade, of the exuberance of the crowds and the wildness of the festivities, which I found infectious and made me wish it might have been sustained a little longer, before Spencer’s past begins to catch up with him in the final third of the novel.
However, at 200 pages, part of the charm of Fat Tuesday is that it’s a fast-paced story about a rapid journey and that neither lingers over-long in any one place. Gary Davison has achieved a startling sharpness in his writing. It’s fast and dizzying and wonderfully wild, and I’m looking forward to the publication of his second book.
Fat Tuesday, Gary Davison, PaperBooks, October 2008
See also www.gary-davison.com and PaperBooks
The View From Here interview with Gary Davison