Work! Consume! Die! by Frankie Boyle

Book review by Steve Bennett

The original sub-title for Frankie Boyle’s second book, Work! Consume! Die! was I Am Almost Completely Insane Now – and after reading 329 relentless pages of despairing, caustic misanthropic loathing, you might be inclined to agree.

Still, it is funny.

It’s impossible to imagine any of the glut of festive titles packing in quite so many gags as this – certainly not as many poisonously splenetic ones. The book is largely made up of aggressively barbed commentary on the events and headline-makers of the past couple of years, with Boyle unflinching in the way he savagely assaults his targets. It goes without saying that you need a strong stomach for some of the more unforgiving brutality, which comes from a depressingly pessimistic world view.

Observing the industrial-financial elite defile the planet as a subservient population is distracted by shiny gadgets and brainless celebrity, Boyle doesn’t have much hope for humanity’s future. Writing of the toll our rampant consumerism will take on future generations, he concludes: ‘When your child was born, you straddled a grave and shat him into it.’ Cheery stuff.

Not at all hypocritically, Boyle shows his distain for this corporate world, by writing a weekly column in The Sun, owned, like the publisher of his book, by the world’s biggest media empire, a conglomeration hardly known for shunning of celebrity tittle-tattle. It is from this weekly opinion piece that the bitter volleys against everything from Gazza to Osama Bin Laden have been harvested, run together as longer essays on topics such as capitalism, science and video games.

Occasionally this means he drives a joke into the ground though constant repetitions on a theme – the idea that the Royal Family bumped off Diana, for example – but mostly it just means concentrated vitriol attached to the occasional insightful comment. No one, of course, is excluded, even Katie Price, lest you think he would deny her the oxygen of publicity given their well-documented spat. ‘Jordan has gone to tremendous attempts to preserve her children’s anonymity,’ Boyle writes, ‘frequently drawing the fire of prying paparazzi, by splaying her legs like a tipsy fawn and filling her cleavage with vomit outside Chinawhite.’

A lot of the topics are well-covered in comedy – calling Cheryl Cole vacuous or the Pope the Nazi head of a global paedophile ring is hardly new, but that doesn’t necessarily make the points less valid. And by not holding back, Boyle’s vicious jokes, demonstrating a blunt efficiency of language, certainly make an impact.

What makes Work! Consume! Die! more than just a Jeremy Clarkson-style cash-in of previously published columns is a) that Boyle, thankfully, is about as far from Jeremy Clarkson as you can get, and b) that the diatribe is punctuated by fictional passages from the comedian’s dark, depraved imagination. These sections – printed in a typewriter font because spidery green handwriting was presumably not available – is where you do worry for Boyle’s mental state.

He portrays himself as a tormented soul, bored out his mind by the banality of life in general, and showbusiness especially, he observes through a druggy Haze in his Glasgow tower block.

‘Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental,’ goes the small-print disclaimer to these sections. So it must be a different comedian called Richard Herring he imagines being ‘fucked to death’, a different Josie Long he sees as inhabiting a monkey body and being raped by a similarly simian Hitler, and a different Michael McIntrye he imagines taking mushrooms and starting noticing more things than ever before, like the ‘control matrix with the media at its core’. To call these sections ‘surreal’ implies a playfulness they don’t have, given the modern usage of the word, but there is a certain mordant humour in the unremitting bleakness.

Alternating chapters between his despairing imagination, and the jokes that sprang from that imagination work well – certainly better than the mix of memoir and stand-up of his debut, My Shit Life So Far.

‘This is a book full of hope and jokes,’ the jacket notes begin. Well, that the first joke right there; abandon hope all ye who enter its pages.

  • Work! Consume! Die! by Frankie Boyle is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Click here to buy from Amazon for £10.

Published: 24 Oct 2011

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