The publishing world is awash with romance, erotica and young adult dystopia. Every day another 400 million novels are published. With this in mind you’d think only a madman would consider writing a short story anthology dealing with none of the above.
Rupert Dreyfus isn’t mad. At least I don’t think he is, but in The Rebel’s Sketchbook he manages to write thirteen short stories without a single tall dark handsome stranger, bursting corset or sword wielding teenager.
Instead we get feeders and boy bands, assassins and vloggers and a couple of rednecks with unhealthy appetites. Rupert doesn’t hold back and few modern day tropes escape the knife.
And it is a sharp knife. In Eat Nasty we are introduced to the hideous excesses of a Youtube generation who don’t know where to draw the line, and monetising any activity comes before common sense.
Like Rupert’s first novel Spark, The Rebel’s Sketchbook is populated by bored individuals abandoned by life, weirdos, extremists, opportunists and a special breed of media star who, money aside, are only as popular as their audiences allow, only as interesting as the last act of voyeuristic stupidity.
The stories vary from metaphors based on media perceptions (Outrage) to deranged guides taking the reader along dimly lit corridors to a final paragraph reveal (Martha). Bizarre, grimy and ghoulish, The Rebel’s Sketchbook is also a wicked demographic study of modern life in all its deranged manifestations. I can almost see hordes of Daily Mail readers tramping off to St. Bees Head intent on leming-like mass suicide, convinced the world has run its course. (One can live in hope.)
A number of stories rely on the exploits of those who are famous without talent. If I were to lay one criticism at this collection it’s that Rupert misses an opportunity to remind the public that if the world is shit it’s because the public demands shit. How else could a man in Sweden become wealthy simply by playing video games with his webcam switched on?
I’ve mentioned this in passing before, and Rupert has a valid point in response: the media doesn’t always inform the public in an honest and unbalanced way. But the debate is still open and I personally don’t think the public should be let off the hook so easily.
But that’s the strength of the Rebel’s Sketchbook. Its power to provoke ideas as much as it’s power to provoke outrage. Your reaction will determine where you sit on the political spectrum. And any book that makes you think is worth reading.
Looking back on it, the Rebel’s Sketchbook does contain romance, erotica and young adult dystopia, but not in a form you’ll immediately recognise.