Marked for Life, Paul Magrs’ first novel, is a Piss Christ of a book, belonging to the nouveau fin-de-siècle genre which does a take on the human condition via the excretory fluids. After a sexual encounter in a lavatory, Mark Kelly, the tattooed protagonist comments:
God this is decadence… Nipping out to spew and snog and
wank and then back in for a chat and more booze. Fabulous.
Even the book jacket, glossy and orange, has a uriney feel to it. Urophiliacs, however, will be disappointed to find that the juice inside the carton is vomit, plus a fair amount of cum. When Kelly meets his wife Samantha, their intimacy is initiated by the act of holding her as she throws up. ‘I’ve thrown up too,’ Kelly tells her. ‘We’ve both been sick tonight, eh?’ Sam replies. Much later, the scenario is echoed when, after being masturbated by a man who has recently vomited, Kelly himself pukes up, and his lover remarks, ‘So we’ve both thrown up tonight, love.’
Set in Darlington and Leeds, Marked for Life is about how Kelly’s world is thrown into chaos by a sinister ex-lover, Tony, reappearing on the scene after doing time for manslaughter. This is complicated by the fact that Tony has become invisible (the reader is warned in the jacket blurb that the book is ‘surreal’). Kelly, who’s been straight since the split, is forced to confront his sexual ambivalence. Tentatively conforming to comedic tradition, the characters experiment with a variety of partners until a combination satisfactory to all is reached. The author lacks the dexterity of, say, Orton or Beaumarchais in this respect, and is hampered by his own surreality which confuses rather than enlightens the reader.
This clumsiness and lack of insight is, I think, a symptom of Magr’s age, his M.A. in creative writing, and the fact that he’s doing a PhD on Angela Carter. At 25, he is still a self-indulgent writer, shielded by Academe from the world of real readers – readers who will not tolerate the head-wank and clichés found throughout this book, nor forgive the inaccuracy of the characters, story and descriptive detail.
Marked for Life is a book to be read on the bog whilst having a good crap.