I’m going to open with a confession and acknowledge that I missed a stage in the continued growth of Morbid Books.
The last time said publisher made their mark here on Triumph of the Now was about a year ago, when L. Parker, the publisher, and I had a public falling out over the tone of a fiction chapbook they published, Sex with Theresa May and Other Fantasies. This falling out was exacerbated by me – while in a suicidal depression tbf so I was not making the best decisions (bet you want me to add: “like not actually killing myself lolol” but I won’t because I’m happier now) – publishing some email correspondence between myself and Parker. That mess has all blown over now, I think, but as Parker will be reviewing my poetry collection Bad Boy Poet for this site soon, we’ll know FOR DEFINITE. Anyway, whether he’s still seething daily about our opposing politics or not, Parker and his press have both been busy. Since last Spring, Morbid Books have released two issues of a journal, two poetry collections, a record, some clothing and also this surprisingly masterful paramedic novella, Takeaway by Tommy Hazard.
Takeaway is – or at least should be – a significant book, though I think Parker does the text as it stands no favours by describing its protagonist as “politically incorrect” in the blurb on his website. Parker is, I think, one of those people I read about in the New Statesman who decry the “mainstream liberal agenda” and see things like “political correctness” as “an erosion of free speech”. It’s not: I am happy to admit to being a “virtue signalling” “social justice warrior”, if what that phrase means is that I try to make an effort to be less of a dick and feel bad when I fail at that, which is what I think the phrase means.
On Twitter – when I first commented that I was enjoying Takeaway – Parker expressed surprise, stating that he thought I may have been too “squeamish” to enjoy the text. What he meant by this, I feel, is that he expected me to be offended by Takeaway in the same way that I was offended by Sex With Theresa May. I wasn’t, because this is a very different text. Although both of the books share a certain tone of dark humour, in SWTM that humour manifests in a proper alt-right-4chan-anything-goes-free-speech kinda style, whereas in this novella the humour is observational, realistic, and – to be blunt – no one is sexually assaulted.
Takeaway is an impressive, nuanced, text that is apparently based on events that have happened to real life paramedics. Whether or not that statement is true, certainly the writing within the book evokes truth, and having read the text I now feel surprisingly well versed on the gritty reality of the London Ambulance Service.
The book is beautifully presented in a deliberate nod to “the Reclam pocket editions of Germany and Austria” and the author, Tommy Hazard, is a shared pseudonym for Parker and “someone who knows a lot more about driving an ambulance”. The text is a series of episodic responses to reported emergencies: some are serious, but most are an utter waste of time. These episodes are narrated bluntly and engagingly in the first person, and show a certain disconnect from society that feels like a very likely response to mostly seeing people in heightened states.
Even though it is selling itself as an un-PC picaresque tract, Takeaway is a genuinely impressive piece of literature that provides a believable and engaging literary exploration of the life of paramedics in London. In contrast to the self-conscious poor taste of Sex With Theresa May and Morbid Books’ multiple Oulipo-inspired tight-theme haiku collections, this is a book that is accessible in both form and content. I was expecting Takeaway to be dehumanising and possibly even dismissive of empathy, but it’s not: this is a rich and moving piece of faux-reportage realist fiction that describes the problems and the importance of the ambulance service. Overworked, understaffed and plagued by near-full-time timewasters, the narrator and his friends may be tough, angry and skiving when they can, but there is a willingness and a dedication to care that doesn’t come from selfishness, but instead from a kinda loose awareness of duty. Yes, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it, and these men and women seem to accept that the said someone is them.
This isn’t a paramedic picaresque where unconscious patients are robbed or assaulted, this isn’t a paramedic picaresque where the vulnerable are exploited, and the only sex the narrator has is with a fellow member of NHS staff. The paramedics aren’t angels, sure, but nobody is – not me, not L. Parker, not anyone.
In capturing this sense of duty, the importance of the ambulance service and the repercussions of underfunding the NHS, a clear traditionalist pro-NHS narrative could be said to underlie the book. In fact, maybe it is this traditionalism that underscores Parker’s other work and bubbles out elsewhere in such – to me – unattractive ways. “Remember when we could joke about anally raping the Prime Minister?” isn’t a huge amount of steps away from “Remember when ambulance drivers were tough bastards?”, both of which – I think – are statement en route towards “Remember when everyone in the street was white?” In my opinion, traditionalism and conservatism are the same thing, and I don’t like it. No one is better than anyone else, for any reason: there are no indications of merit, we’re all just sophisticated animals. Do as we would have other do unto us, like.
So, I stand by my assertion of last Summer that there is no political justification for violent sexual assault fantasies, and even though he’s a bit of a bloke, a bit of a lad, the central voice in Takeaway is a caring, generous, persona and far removed from the destructive, sexually exploitative voice that controls Sex with Theresa May. This is valid, important, urgent, writing, and I commend Parker and his secret collaborator for making it. HOWEVER, if the intention of Takeaway was to shock and disgust and appall sensitive snivelly liberals like myself, then perhaps it’s not the piece it was meant to be: there is nothing unjustifiably unpleasant about this text.
A great book. Very very much worth a read. Buy it from the publisher here, and actually do so, this is top top top stuff.
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