Book Review

You Ruin It When You Talk by Sarah Manvel

very funny novelette from hipstertopia's Open Pen

You Ruin It When You Talk is a 2020 novelette from the always great and often excellent (especially when they publish poetry), Open Pen, a hip East London micro-indie press and free-at-the-point-of-use short fiction magazine. They’ve published many excellent physically small books since they segued into this in 2018, and this book, all about livin’ and lovin’ in London is a great example of what they do.

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I’ve seen Manvel read from You Ruin It When You Talk on several occasions, and the raucous humour of Manvel’s spoken word performance comes across just as much on the page as it does irl.

You Ruin It When You Talk is comprised of vignettes, (micro-flashes?), all somewhere between a sentence and maybe a page and a half, which collate to form a deep and cringe-inducing collage-tapestry of the realities of London’s dating scene.

This is a book about encountering awkwardness, entitlement, rudeness, presumption and obliviousness, with Manvel’s narrator finding herself over and over again in romantic/near-romantic/sexual/near-sexual situations with some of the silliest, most deluded, self-sabotaging singletons – and people pretending to be singletons (is “singleton” a word – it rolled off my thumbs as I typed it the first time (I’m typing on my phone, I’m not a horse) but the second time it really seemed like something I’d never seen before or since the nineties?) – London has to offer.

It’s a very funny book, full of awkward and ridiculous – yet never non-realist – situations explained succinctly, evocatively and with a lot of bathos and honest-feelingness (Manvel speaks at readings as if it’s all 100% autobiographical, but as this isn’t specified (in writing) in the text I’m not going to presume that it is, either literally or legally), with a narrator who is an optimist and [insert synonym for “romantic” but one that can’t be misinterpreted as meaning “wants to fall in love” in a like regressive way] who will not give up on the potential for human connectedness.

Maybe I’m particularly inured to narratorial scandalising due to my own crudely indiscreet writings (both on this blog and in writing I’ve published in places where other people have editorial control), but Manvel’s narrator comes across a little too well here for my tastes: unless you think that sex and desire is inherently bad (which I’m sure some of my regular readers do), there’s nothing said or done by the book’s narrator that is, in itself, embarrassing or shameful. Like, there’s no casual cruelty, no accidental meanness, no declarations of love, no teasable kinks, no real lack of awareness of another’s motives/intentions/expectations where the narrator looks worse than the person/people they’re interacting with.

But that’s me, I suppose, I like to read books where the voice on the page is as sad as I am. Manvel’s narrator isn’t sad, isn’t friendless, isn’t alone when they don’t want to be, isn’t around people when they need to be alone, they’re someone – healthier, wiser, adulter than I, perhaps – who wants to experience the pleasures and disappointments of human interaction, and the recurring decision to go out and look for love and sex and all the human things on the love-sex spectrum is an act of faith, an act of hope, and one that comes across as commendable rather than, I dunno, pointless (which is how I feel about everything I do lol 🤠)

It’s very very funny. It’s very real. It’s grim but not kitchen sink blood and coal dust grim, it’s grim in a hipster kinda way, not grim in a bleak way. Not grim in a way that argues for human extinction, grim in a-

I dunno where I’m going with that.

Buy it, read it, it’s great. And go and watch Manvel read/perform if/when you get the chance.

Order it direct from Open Pen via this link (and add Bad Boy Poet to your basket if you’ve lost/given away all the copies you previously bought).

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