Review by Jane Turley
Once upon a time there was a small boy who delivered newspapers. Every day he read the headlines and columns and marvelled at the strange happenings that went on in the Big World. One day he said to himself “When I grow up I will be a writer and tell magnificent tales of good and evil. But they will be just stories and no one will really be hurt or sad. Everyone will love my books and I will become very rich indeed!” (It should be added that the boy, as well as having a good imagination, was also slightly delusional.)
So the small boy, whose name was Paul, grew into a fine young man. Every evening when the other children played he would write by the light of a flickering candle. Eventually, when he had written enough words, he put on his thigh high boots, tossed his knapsack over his shoulder and headed off to the Big City to look for The Publisher.
It was rumoured that if The Publisher liked your story he would stamp your name on a scroll with an elusive magic ring. The mark of The Ring would give the author access to moneybags filled with gold, world literary domination and, if lucky, a review in The Daily Mail.
Paul was determined to find The Ring. “The Ring is mine!” he cried, “I must have The Ring!” But the Ring was sought by many and only few could bear its mark. Nevertheless, after a long journey (and several changes of boots) Paul eventually found The Publisher. Paul fell to his knees begging for the mark of The Ring but The Publisher was an evil, dribbling, monster with a penchant for boiling novice writers and skewering them with cheap red biros. He was also in a foul mood having just spilt his coffee over his breeches and so he yelled at the young man “You cannot have the mark of The Ring! You must go away and learn your trade! You must write every day and night for 20 years and then and only then will I look at your manuscript!”
Paul thought about stealing The Ring but as The Publisher wore it in his nose Paul decided the risk of infection was too high. So he cried and cried and cried. But every day and every night for 20 years he remembered The Publisher’s words and so he continued to write by the light of a flickering candle. The words poured forth from his pen. They spewed forth, line after line, page after page, until his pile of papers was as big as a mountain.
Then one night as Paul lay sobbing amongst his pile of unpublished papers his fairy godmother, Tom, appeared. Tom wasn’t too happy about having to wear a pink skirt and sequins but he knew The Humourist would give him a very big wand. And she did. A very, very big wand indeed. The Fairy Godmother saw Paul weeping and said “You foolish man! Don’t you know there is more than one publisher and more than one ring? I will wave my BIG wand and you will be published –Oh, and I’ll also get you a new pair of boots because those are sooooo unfashionable darling.”
And so it was done. The boy who once the delivered the newspapers finally became an author. The Publisher was sacked for having too many piercings. The Fairy Godmother nipped down to Harvey Nichols for a change of clothing and (very possibly) The Humourist got fired.
There’s something very satisfying about fairy tales isn’t there? Maybe that’s why so many of us recall our childhood reading with such affection. More often than not, fairy tales would have a happy ending with seemingly good triumphing over evil but along the way there would always be conflict and moral ambiguity. Should the children of Hamelin have been led away by the Pied Piper because of their mean-spirited parents? Should Rapunzel’s father have exchanged his unborn child for salad? Did Rumpelstitskin really deserve to suffer more than the vain miller who said his daughter could weave straw into gold or the greedy king who imprisoned her? Maybe it's because there is so much ambiguity in fairy tales is the reason we enjoy them so much; the path to justice and resolution isn’t always obvious. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made which might involve heartbreak, cruelty and even death. But, without a doubt, those decisions, the debate and the conflict make addictive reading.
The concept of the fairy tale and the moral dilemmas they pose, particularly in pursuit of love, is one that author Paul Burman embraces in his latest novel The Grease Monkey’s Tale. A literary thriller, the narrative in The Grease Monkey’s Tale is interspersed with original fairy tales which draw upon traditional characters and set the scene for the tale of Nic, a mechanic, who in pursuit of his princess and love finds himself falsely accused of armed robbery. But this is just the beginning of his story. Nic’s princess, the mysterious Siobhan, comes to his salvation and engineers a job for him in a remote Australian backwater where Nic discovers hidden secrets which challenge his moral being. As his reservations about the bizarre town of Gimbly grow Nic tries to submerge his fears in his overwhelming love for Siobhan. But soon events begin to spiral out of control and Nic is left fighting for survival and for truth…
The Grease Monkey's Tale
By Paul Burman
Publisher: Legend Press 2010
The Grease Monkey’s Tale is a pacy novel with all the excitement of a thriller yet it offers so much more. There isn’t the standard “happy ending” as one might expect of your average thriller or fairy tale but it is certainly a thought provoking ending. It will leave you wondering not only about the moral dilemmas we face in our own lives but in the very structure of society. When does love become destructive? Is good business always the right business or vice versa? What sort of society do we live in which destroys lives or forces people to live on the streets? These are some of the questions that I asked myself when I closed the final chapter.
Paul Burman doesn’t offer an answer to the many question raised. That’s not his agenda. But what he does offer is a tale richly told with eloquent description often scarce in thrillers. His first novel The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore was an extravaganza of description which ideally suited the story of a man caught up in complex dreams and memories. However, in The Grease Monkey’s Tale his distinctive style is more tempered. The description heightens the oppressive atmosphere yet doesn’t impede the pace of the plot. It is this combination that makes it so easy to read and visualize the woeful tale of Nic, The Grease Monkey. It is this empathy with Nic that makes you wonder what would I do in the same circumstances? And, as we know, empathy is the key to any successful novel.
Of course, sometimes we don’t find any answers to difficult questions, sometimes the answers only become apparent as events unfold and sometimes there just isn’t a singular “right” answer. But one’s things for sure, thinking about dilemmas either individually or collectively goes a long way towards putting your best foot forward. “Look forwards, move forwards, never back” says Nic’s father in The Grease Monkey’s Tale and on the whole, I think this is very good advice. Certainly, if you’re an unpublished author you need to always look to the future and not let past disappointments weigh you down. In Paul Burman’s case I think it is fair to say that with the publication of The Grease Monkey’s Tale he is definitely moving forwards.
To read our interview with Paul Burman click here.
To read our review of The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore click here.
Paul Burman's website can be found here.