As the Demon Dog would say, it’s a fever dream, a fever dream…Or a nightmare. Former personal assistant to Allan Ginsberg, Steve Finbow’s debut Balzac of the Badlands sears into the reader’s psyche like a blowtorch. Rendered something like a Ballardian atrocity exhibition.
Finbow takes no prisoners with his sometimes hard-going subject matter – the novel falls occasionally under the label ‘experimental’ which is something I find off-putting i.e. James Palumbo’s Tomas, though Finbow’s writing style, pacing, character and plot work whereas Tomas was a monumental failure – often brutal but beautifully written novel.
Finbow’s North London is a place where the light only ever touches the edge of things, where canines become deeply troubled when in close proximity to his protagonist Balthazar, where a character called Mermaid can speak to still images and people trafficking is going on right under your nose. Part hardboiled fiction, part post-post-modern neo-noir and always utterly compelling – even if at times the novel seemed a bit…pushy and forced me to stop with a WTF thought – echoes of Coupland perhaps.
Any Cop?: Balzac of the Badlands reminded me that as readers, or people who actually care about decent literature, we should never have a comfort zone. Let’s leave that to Oprah. This book will throttle you, but as any masochist will tell you, the bruises are ultimately worth it. I haven’t felt as unsettled by a book since Martin Amis’s Other People.