JOHN KlNG’s novels have tackled the less adjusted social types around us. Allan Radcliffe finds that his latest book is a prison diary with deadly aspects. Seven of them, actually.

here appears to be an

abiding tendency to write

off novelist John King’s fiction while the pages are still sizzling on the presses. This all began seven years ago when chatterers across the nation could be heard gleefully sharpening their misanthropic scorn in anticipation of the author‘s debut. The Football I'kietory. Granted. a graphic 250- page insight into the life and conduct of a seasoned Chelsea ‘hooligan’ and his band of cohorts was never going to escape the shelf marked ‘controversial‘.

Bttt imagine the collective gasp of surprise and grudging admiration as King‘s debut turned out not to be a catalogue of gratuitous violence but shock and horror an original. energetic and provocative exploration of life on the lower rungs of a disaffected society. King‘s talent for wrongfooting fans and critics alike has characterised his writing career. which includes similarly powerful examinations of linglish culture‘s varying facets. from the potent satire of sexual mores in Hem/hunters to the time-travelling left-wing skinheads of Human Punk.

King‘s latest work. The Prison House. is no exception. The novel is set among the grimy cells and blood-soaked shower stalls of Seven Towers. a run- down hilltop hostelry and home to such colourfully- christened psychopaths such as the Butcher and knitting needle-wielding top dog Papa. Into this inhospitable hell comes Jimmy. a sometime hobo with a fertile imagination. forced to do his time in the company of real or imagined memories of an isolated childhood. as well as the chequered history of a life on the road. While several horrific possibilities are hinted at. King leaves us guessing the nature of Jimmy‘s crime. tightly interweaving his narrator‘s observations. memories and fantasies to create a beguiling meditation on alienation and the perilously fine line between guilt. innocence and salvation.

Though shot through with the graphic violence and black humour that have distinguished his previous works. the stylised prison setting and isolated protagonist mark this one out as something of a departure. ‘The focus has definitely

shifted with this book.‘ agrees King. ‘ln The Football T‘iu‘fln')‘. the main character Tommy Johnson gives up

his individuality. having to pay his subs to belong to a certain group within society. In Jimmy's story. I‘ve moved to concentrating on the personal. looking at the power of the imagination and the ways in which

104 THE LIST 27 May—ii) Jun 2004


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people live in their heads.‘

King's vision grew from the germ of the Seven Towers representing all the Deadly Sins. the book's plethora of ideas and images evolving during the writing process. ‘l‘ll often start writing something and gradually watch it develop into something else.’ he explains. ‘As I got deeper into The Prison Home I added a lot of personal stuff. conversations and stories to Jimmy‘s memories. So in that sense it was easily the tnost difficult book to write. and quite an emotional experience.‘

Something of a John of all trades. King is currently in the process of producing an album based on the novel’s seven sections. which includes a collaboration with perennial punk favourites the Ruts. And it will not have escaped the sharp-eyed among you

Th e Football Factory is currently dividing opinion among cinema-goers. critics and FA executives.

‘l punted it around for years but nobody wanted it.‘ King says of the controversial screenplay. ‘l've known Nick [l.ove. the director] for a long time and felt he was the right man for the job. When he agreed to direct. 1 said this could either end in blood on the streets or a curry. Luckily it ended in a curry.‘

The Prison House is out now, published by Jonathan Cape, £10.99.

that a screen adaptation of

Fiction & Biography

Debut writers under the microscope

This issue Anthony Capella.

Who he? After being a failed academic. a fired adman and a bankrupt pig farmer. writing allowed Capella to indulge in his greatest passions: food and sex. When in Rome, researching the novel, he actually put on around two stone eating two five-course meals a day. That's commitment for you.

His debut The Food of Love is a thoroughly hilarious novel of romance. culinary seduction and Rome as Cyrano-style temptation is combined with sensuous recipes and a tale of mistaken identities, providing a decadent beach read.

So, what actually happens? Laura Patterson is an American exchange student in the ‘eternal city'. fed up of being clumsily groped by Italians who still live with their mothers. Enter Tommaso Massi, who charms and impresses Laura on their meeting in Gigliemi's food shop. introduces himself as a chef and rescues her from culinary blunders. Unbeknownst to Laura. Tomasso's shy friend Bruno is the Gordon Ramsay of the pair and when Laura comes to dinner Tommaso persuades Bruno to continue with the Charade.

What the critics said Richard Curtis describes it as ‘the definitive Roman romantic comedy' while Hugh Laurie reckons it's ‘a splendid, linen suit, Panama hat. distant lawnmower kind of a book’. First line test ‘In a little side street off the Viale Giorioso. in Rome’s Trastevere. there is a bar known to those who frequent it simply as Gennaro's. It is, to look at, not much of a bar, being the approximate size and shape of a small one-car garage.‘

(Brian Donaldson)

I The Food of Love is published on Thu 3 Jun by TimeWarner, £10.

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