Daniel Crabtree comes from a long line of young writers who believe that great work is born only from great suffering. Accordingly, Crabtree has left the comfort of his parents’ home to live alone, in an unfurnished apartment in Salford, where he survives on a diet of flour and John Smiths. Inspired he is not, and aside from stomach cramps and one unpublished short story, Crabtree has very little to show for his self-inflicted suffering. He spends most of his time in the pub or wandering through the shopping precinct, observing life in all its gloom, and trying to convince himself of his own genius—in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. He is pompous, proud—and thanks to Wallwork’s wonderful writing—very, very funny.
It took me less than five pages to lose myself in this fast-paced, bitterly voiced, tragicomic novel; a few hours later, I’d finished it, surprised and moved by the story and the brilliance of the writing. Crabtree’s stubbornness and steadfast belief in his ability as a writer are hilarious, as are his candid observations on the filth and fury by which he’s surrounded, even as they mark him out as, well… a bit of a twat.
My steps fell heavy as I walked down Broadway toward the precinct. I was appalled with life and with people in general. I could not relate to most until I turned twenty-one. I do not know why, it was just that way. My indifference was a failing. I tried hard to understand the common person, if only to help the prose, but most were simple in their ways and added little to the world around them. It became tiresome listening to them bemoan, gripe and carp about the state of the country and having benefits cut, or the extortionate amount of tax which the government placed on cigarettes and booze.
Like John Fante and Knut Hamsun before him, Craig Wallwork chronicles the miseries and mishaps of a starving artist in fine style, the key differences here being both the setting—Manchester, England, in 1991—and the fact that Crabtree is not really much of a writer. Luckily, in this respect at least, Wallwork is nothing like his creation, and there are passages in this that floored me for their tenderness, while certain parts made me laugh out loud; others simply made me cringe for how painfully accurate they were in capturing the voice of a self-deluding writer. At times it read like Adrian Mole narrating his way through a Shane Meadows film, but it’s with the introduction of Emma—a fourteen-year-old girl who’s been helping Crabtree’s ailing uncle—that the story takes on a greater depth. From this point, we see a different side to the wannabe writer, and his responses to her kindness cause a reaction in the reader of a more complex kind.
Emma told me about her teachers and how they couldn’t handle the pupils. She didn’t have many friends, and those she did like lived near the Irlam O’ Th’ Heights. Most of her spare time would be spent helping around the house, cooking and listening to music in her bedroom. Her father owned a large selection of vinyl records, mostly from the 60s and 70s. Van Morrison, Supertramp and Steely Dan blocked out the venom and the nastiness of the of her parents’ intense arguments, allowing a grand expanse of time and space to shelter her from harm. The conversation was very civilised and laid-back, and when the cans were finished, I felt obliged to offer food, a biscuit, or a packet of crisps, but my cupboard was bare, the refrigerator empty save for a pool of water that sat permanently on its bottom shelf. I was hungry too, my stomach growled like a rabid dog. She asked if I would like to the share the sandwich.
‘I’ll scrape off the egg and you can have the bread.’
I could not believe a person like this existed.
I loved this book. I loved it for its humour, its pathos, and the way it zeroes in on the minutiae of a life so crappy and insignificant that it could only have been born from real experience. For all the comparisons one might draw with other works of literature that have tackled similar themes—poverty, self-exile, and illicit obsession—there is something unique and wholly refreshing about Wallwork’s version. He skilfully sidesteps the usual pitfalls of a narrative of this kind, carefully avoiding cliché in terms of structure and style, and renders both the characters and setting in a manner that makes them instantly recognisable and utterly authentic. At just over two hundred pages, The Sound of Loneliness is a swift read, but it’s one that will have you hankering for more from this undeniably talented author. Cool cover-art, too.