Fiction – paperback; Harvill Secker; 272 pages; 2010. Review copy courtesy of publisher.
Henry Sutton’s Get Me Out of Here languished in my reading queue for more than a year. Billed as a “credit crunch” novel, it wasn’t something that immediately piqued my interest. Then I saw Guy Savage’s perceptive review and knew I had to dig it out for a read.
The novel — Sutton’s sixth — doesn’t really have anything to with the global economy sliding into free-fall. Instead, it’s about a 30-something brand-obsessed businessman losing his grip on reality.
Aside from my introduction to Ross O’Carroll-Kelly earlier in the year, our narrator, Matt, is the funniest — and sickest — character I’ve come across in modern fiction for a long time. But where Ross is pretty much harmless, Matt isn’t quite as innocent.
Matt is, quite frankly, absolutely delusional and filled with an over-inflated sense of self-importance. He’s the type of person who thinks the world revolves around him, and he has no sense of shame whatsoever.
When the book opens he’s busy trying to get a refund on a pair of sunglasses he no longer wants. That’s because he’s seen another, more expensive, pair in another shop that he prefers. What he doesn’t tell the sales assistant — although surely she suspects — is that he deliberately broke a lens and “possibly bent an arm back with more force thant was strictly necessary”.
This is a pattern that repeats itself throughout the book: Matt buys highly desirable products at great expense, then rashly changes his mind and returns his purchases, usually damaged, and demands a refund. He is a shop manager’s worst nightmare.
But these scenes, particularly when he’s arguing his case and lying through his teeth, are explosively funny. Take, for instance, his purchase of some Japanese-made luggage for an impending business trip. He takes home his new grey “indestructible” ballistic nylon suitcase and…
I thought I’d put the bag through its paces and test the strength of the handle and the play on the wheels and what would happen to the grey it if were subjected to a bit of tossing around in the yard. After all, this was probably mild compared to what the baggage handlers at Heathrow, or Pyongyang International for that matter, would subject the thing to — except they wouldn’t, of course, be getting their hands on it, as it was only ever meant to be hand luggage. However, the hopelessly young sales assistant in Selfridges’ luggage department — what was his ambition in life? To front a boy band? — didn’t necessarily know that. If I’d had a gun I’d have shot the damn thing to see what it was really made of.
While the handles and wheels “held firm”, the nylon “marked atrociously”, so he returns it within a matter of hours, only to be greeted with a shocked: “Why does this one look so used?”
I said, “You told me they were indestructible. Bulletproof, is what you said. How, if that’s the case, is it possible that in a matter of only an hour or two they look like this, if they are really as tough and practical as you made out? What’s the point in having such smart and expensive luggage if it looks like this after its first outing? What would it look like if I took it on a trip to Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo? And that’s beside the fact that my fiancée hates the colour. She’s right. For once. What a ridiculous fucking colour for a bag. It’s only ever going to show up dirt, like shit on a toilet bowl.”
So, as you can see, Matt is alarmingly shallow and manipulative. But what becomes increasingly clear as you get further and further into the story is that Matt treats his girlfriends — and there are a string of them — in exactly the same way, exchanging one for another as soon as he has become tired of them. But because he is narrating the story — in a wholly unreliable manner — the reader has to fill in the gaps. Why is he cleaning stains off the wall? And why is he dumping Bobbie’s secret shoebox in a skip in a laneway?
What makes Matt such a fascinating character is the gap between his reality and the real world. He is constantly making plans to leave London and set up some exotic business in far-flung locales, but never gets beyond filching expensive meals off his friends or shoplifting wine from the corner store.
All the while he moans about the state of the world, the state of the economy, the immorality of the times and his pet hate — fat people. Obnoxious, self-centred and absurdly funny, Matt is not what he seems. Sutton scatters little clues here and there which allow you to build up a picture of the real Matt — and it isn’t exactly pretty.
Get Me Out of Here is a truly memorable read, one that could best be described as a wicked satire about murder, madness and the never-ending quest to keep on shopping! It’s enormous fun and yet it’s probably the most disturbing novel I’ve read all year. Do try it if you are looking for something different.