I picked up this novel after reading an intriguing and enticing review by fellow reviewer and talented writer Terry Tyler, and as I’ve discovered quite a number of great writers following her recommendations, I had to give this one a go. I’m sure you’ll realise why soon enough.
Rum Hijack by Phil Motel
A frustrated loner and book lover, convinced he is destined to write a best seller and become a literary legend – before even typing a single word – begins taking out his “writer’s block” on the local community.
Depressed and volatile, his explosive outbursts within the privacy of his own home begin to manifest in public as his increasing creative frustrations and disastrous romantic relationships pile up, causing him to become a source of amusement among the regulars at local pubs and bars – but who will have the last laugh?
About the author:
Phil comes from southern England and now lives in the US. He is a radical, innovative, avant-garde writer whose prose attracts readers every time it is encountered. His influences are many but he has been compared favourably with Rimbaud, Bukowski and Dosteovesky for his dark and earthy tales of outsiders on the edge.
Inkker Hauser Part 1: Rum Hijack, his debut on Amazon, is the darkly comic tale of a frustrated and slightly insane would-be writer who begins taking out his “writers’ block” on the local community. Inkker Hauser Part 2 is the follow up and contains a hysterical, surreal and agonising karaoke sequence, which will probably never be equalled.
Rum Hijack was recently included in a list of the top 50 Best Indie books of the year in 2014.
Phil’s other main interests are music and basketball – and is a fan of the Chicago Bulls. His Bukowskiesque blog, Motel Literastein, about an Englishman living on the fringes of society and sanity in a motel in Philadelphia, is controversial, confrontational and cathartic, but never dull, beautifully written and well worth following.
He will probably never return home.
Follow Phil on Twitter on the address below.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel. It came highly recommended, and it’s one of those books that I’m sure won’t leave anybody indifferent.
This is not a book heavy on plot. It is a novel narrated in the first person by a would-be writer stuck in writers’ block and seemingly unable to unleash the immense and unique talent for literature he believes he has. He uses all the tried and tested methods most readers will be familiar with (drinking heavily, navel-gazing, taking drugs, isolating himself, constantly trying to call the muses…) and some pretty unique ones (he is obsessed with submarines, and a particular Russian submarine disaster; he is also interested in air disasters; he has a penchant for peculiar interior decorating and a unique sense of fashion; he loves his fish and model-making [submarine again]). He adopts a variety of names and identities throughout the book, and seems intent on outraging and destroying things around him in frustration for not being able to create something, although when he dreams of literary fame, it isn’t what most people would think a writer would dream about.
Rather than helping, everything he tries seems to send him down a slippery slope of self-destruction (and a fair deal of vandalism and petty crime as well), and as readers, we are privileged witnesses of this journey towards… Well, if you read it you can decide by yourselves.
Although Bukowski has been mentioned in several reviews, the main character made me think of several books and authors I’ve read as well, some quite recently. He did remind me of the main character in Malibu Motel, who is so self-involved and unrealistic that he keeps digging holes for himself. Inkker (to give him one of his adopted names) has more insight (even if fleeting), and there is something more genuine about him, although he keeps it under wraps and well hidden. It also reminded me of Eileen and other protagonists of Ottessa Moshfegh’s work, but her characters are more extreme and even though less likeable, we normally get more of a background and a better understanding of where they are coming from. And, the way Inkker’s angry simmers and boils until it explodes in outrage, reminded me of a fantastic essay I read many years back by John Waters (the film director) called ‘101 Things I Hate’ published in his collection Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters. What starts like a list of annoying things Waters is sharing with us, gets more and more outrageous as he gets more and more irate, and you can hear him shouting at you from the page by the end. It’s impossible not to nod and agree at many of the items on the list, but there is something at the same time darkly funny and scary in the way his emotions run so raw and close to the surface.
The book is beautifully observed and written, although, of course, it being in the first-person and the narrator a pretty unreliable one, we have to take all his comments and his opinions with a huge pinch of salt, and that goes for his depiction of other characters (and there are a few: an indie writer —of all things— and his girlfriend, an elderly neighbour, the guests at a disastrous dinner party, the locals at a pub, a couple of women, one he had a one-night-stand with and one he goes on a date with…). As you might suspect from the description, he is not particularly skilled in the social graces either and that results in some scenes that feel like watching a train wreck. It’s impossible to look away even when you know it’s going to get ugly, and I’m sure some of them will remain imprinted in the minds of readers for a long time.
Rum Hijack, which was first published in two separate parts, is darkly comedic (his quips at most writers, especially at self-published ones, will be ‘appreciated’ by those in the profession although perhaps not so much by readers not familiar with Twitter or with indie authors’ marketing techniques), and although in the face of it there is nothing particularly endearing about the protagonist, there is such vulnerability, such contradictions (he is reckless but careful, anarchic but worried about getting caught, a self-proclaimed outsider but eager to be admired and loved), such need, and such self-loathing behind many of his actions that it’s impossible not to keep reading about his adventures and hope that things might take a turn for the better.
This is not a book for readers eager for adventure and action, who love a complex plot and consistent characters. It is not for those who dislike first-person narrations or prefer clean, edifying and inspiring plots and messages. If you enjoy literary fiction, books about writing (or writers’ block), are eager to find new voices, and love your humour very dark, check a sample of this book. You will either love it or hate it (yes, it’s a marmite kind of book). It’s up to you.
Thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author, and to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and always, keep safe, out there or indoors.