‘Churchtown: The Tale of Suzy Delou and Faye Fiddle’ by Anthony Caleshu

Churchtown

Fiction – paperback; Roast Books; 120 pages; 2008. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Where do I start with this one? Perhaps I should begin with a caveat. Life was so busy last week that my reading time was seriously curtailed. And knowing in advance that I’d probably only be able to snatch the odd few minutes here and there, I chose Churchtown: The Tale of Suzy Delou and Faye Fiddle solely on the basis that it was small enough to fit in my handbag. Sadly, I would have been better off reading one of those horrible free news sheets on my tube journeys instead of this book. And if you’ve ever read the Metro or the London Evening Standard you’ll know what a back-handed compliment that is.

This novella tells the bizarre story of two women at loggerheads with each other: Suzy Delou is the local whore and Faye Fiddle her uptight neighbour. The pair live on an island that was once very religious, but has since been “converted” into a small society of drinking, gambling, sex-obsessed men. Suzy makes a habit of sleeping with as many of them as she can, while Faye tuts at her from a distance. When Faye falls in love with a visiting sailor, much younger than herself, things come to a head, because Suzy, with an insatiable appetite for men, wants him, too…

The second part of the novella explains the backstory of the two women and how their rivalry and differences came into play. It involves the disputed parentage of a baby boy: is he Suzy’s by immaculate conception, or is he the result of Faye’s one night stand with a visiting country and western star?

Yes, if you think it sounds odd, let me reassure you that it is very odd indeed. So odd, that I could not quite make head nor tail of it. Should I be repulsed, or should I find it incredibly funny? After a couple of days thinking about it, I’m still not sure…

And yet the writing is crisp and clear, so there’s no problem with the prose style, and the characterisation, which is rich and vivid, is good too. But somehow the gross, sordid world presented here feels too seedy, repulsive and misogynistic for my liking. The Gothic, Deep South influence, with its religious overtones, only serves to make me even less enamoured of the whole thing.

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5 thoughts on “‘Churchtown: The Tale of Suzy Delou and Faye Fiddle’ by Anthony Caleshu

  1. This made me giggle because I had that special one line review you gave of it last week in my head the whole way through. I hadnt heard of this title before your mentioned it the other day and dont think that I will be getting a copy in the future either sounds like its a lot of effort for a little book which is sometimes worth it, maybe not in this case.

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  2. Ha. I’ve done the same thing — too little time, so let’s pick a short book. And it is amazing how a not-very-good short book can become a long book in no time at all (very mixed thought there, I agree). My own failing with books like this is I set them aside and then find all sorts of reasons not to get back to them, but also think they are too short to abandon. Which is the prescription for turning a 180-page bad book into a more time-consuming experience than a 500-page good book. I am thankful that Australian ex-pats have lined up an impressive list of “long” books for me that I am sure I will enjoy, once I get to them.

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  3. I had to do everything in my power, Simon, not to include that line in my review! But honestly, this book was such hard work despite it’s oh-so slim size.

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  4. Very true, Kevin. I reckon I could have read two of those “long” Aussie tomes in the same time that it took me to read this (terrible) short book. Honestly, I’d put it down and not want to pick it up again. I spent most of my tube journeys last week listening to my iPod instead. I had to force myself to sit down on Sunday afternoon to finish this one, otherwise it would have been left there unfinished for months.

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