Sometimes I despair for the written
word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sidled up to a grizzled
gent in an inner-city pub with the opening salvo ‘So, read any good
books lately cobber?’ only to be rudely rebuffed with a prompt ‘Fuck
off, poofter’ and a chorus of snide chuckles from onlookers
possessed of more facial hair than myself.
Which is a shame, because I really do
have some genuinely trenchant insights into the world of literature,
with which I could happily be regaling a roomful of rapt, half-drunk
onlookers if only they would give me the chance. Instead I usually
end up nursing a beer in a corner of the room, casting resentful
glances at all and sundry and thinking of witty rejoinders that
would have been appropriate had I the capacity to concoct them in
something approaching a timely fashion.
At any rate, if my opinion was ever
sought on the matter the first words out of my mouth would be ‘read
The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh’. I know that plays aren’t
exactly the coolest things going around. Essentially the Paris
Hilton of the literary world, most people seem to agree they’ve
pretty much had their day and now wish they’d kindly just fuck off
and die quietly in a gutter somewhere.
Oh, everyone knows Shakespeare had his
shit together. Moliere’s works are hilarious. Becket’s Waiting
for Godot was an enjoyable enough little diversion and Marilyn
Monroe-shagger Arthur Miller introduced entire generations of high
school students to political paranoia with The Crucible.
Whoop-dee-do. Can we go back to getting drunk at Law balls and
watching The Hills reruns please?
Well, slow down there Sonny Jim. Let’s
get a sense of perspective here. First of all McDonagh isn’t some
bespectacled old prune penning twaddle in between bouts of fucking
the most famous blonde starlet of his generation. He was the writer
and director of In Bruges, one of the best films of 2008, and
is a widely-respected playwright whose work has steadily been
garnering awards since his mid-20s. And The Pillowman may
well be his magnum opus.
This blackest of black comedies
concerns Katurian, a playwright in a nameless totalitarian state
arrested because of a striking similarity between the child murders
rife in his short stories and a number of real-life crimes. And
that’s all I’m going to tell you, because anything else would just
be spoiling the surprise. The adjectives bandied about the back
cover can’t begin to do this haunting, audacious and confronting
work justice. It took me three or four attempts just to get through
the two pages in which McDonagh introduces the tragic figure of the
Pillowman. Yes, it is just that sad, and I am just that sensitive.
Be that as it may this taut, hypnotic book will stay with you long
after you’ve read its final pages.
And that’s what I’d say to the wizened
old sots at the bar, in between sips of stout and drags on my Winnie
Blues. If only they’d ever ask me, the pricks.