I was still ill when I finished Persepolis. I wanted to keep reading, but I didn’t want to dive into anything too long and taxing in case my slightly-feverish brain couldn’t keep up with it. I surveyed my shelves until I spotted Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation, Martin Millar’s first novel. I read the book that he is probably most well known for, The Good Fairies of New York, a couple of years ago, and have slowly been collecting more of his work. Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation is very short – 152 pages – and knowing that it was likely to be easy going, surreal, and silly, I decided that it was perfect for the occasion.
Alby Starvation, the main character, is a small time drug dealer living in Brixton, hiding from an assassin sent by the Milk Marketing Board. At first I thought he was just paranoid, but as the book switches viewpoint and introduces all the other characters, we find out that there is a Milk Marketing Board, and that they are pretty evil. It’s not all so unrealistic. There is also a supermarket manager who mainly just wants to buy a hot tub, and his wife, dreading it. Two men, one desperate for attention, the other a master of meditation, battle each other in the video game arcade, with a crowd of fans cheering them on. Professor Wing is secretly hunting for the crown of Ethelred the Unready, having stolen council equipment for digging up roads. Okay, I’ll admit, that’s a weird one, but June, the Brazilian assassin, is pretty normal, except for that whole killing people business!
There is only a little magic, in the form of a nurse with healing powers, but most of the events have at least a touch of the surreal. I did find it a bit confusing at the start, as there are a lot of different characters and the narrative jumps around in time a bit, especially in the sections from Alby’s point of view. It’s very fast paced, but eventually everything falls into place.
If you like stories in which one coincidence after another pushes the characters together in ever more entertaining ways, you’ll probably love this. If you need a clear and definite plot and don’t like silliness, this won’t be the book for you, especially as it ends quite suddenly. Little is resolved, but there are clues that suggest how the characters will end up. The Good Fairies of New York has more of a plot and a more linear narrative, so if you’re not sure, try that one first.
I finished this book in a much better mood, and resolved to a) make more of an effort to track down copies of Martin Millar’s other books, and b) convince more people to try his work! I should probably hurry up and review The Good Fairies of New York already…