Flight From Deathrow
(2002) is the debut novel
English comedian (is there any other kind?) Harry Hill
. It has nothing to do with Death Row
. (The title, according to a note from the author, was supposed to be 'Flight From Heathrow
'.) It could be loosely described as the literary equivalent of Tom Green
's awful movie Freddy Got Fingered
- which isn't to say that the book is bad, rather that Hill does not approach the project with the intention of 'proving himself' as a conventional
Fans of Hill may be aware of his numerous side projects over the years (such as his black and white short films, tour programmes, paintings and website), usually involving his close friends and extended family, which hint at a comedic 'vision' (without wishing to sound too pretentious about it...) which he has been developing for some time now. Deathrow serves as the latest glimpse into Hill's little world, made more for his own amusement than mainstream consumption. If you are not a fan of Harry Hill (or don't know who he is), then this is not a book that I would recommend. (It also requires that the reader is familiar with a lot of British pop culture ephemera.)
The book is written in the rambling, conversational style of Hill's standup routines (although mercifully without flitting between unrelated threads from one sentence to the next). The plot is a strange fantasia involving a cast of fictionalised versions of celebrities and public figures as well as a handful of original characters. Most of the fifty-two chapters are self-contained episodes where Hill runs with a particular loopy idea. These episodes are connected in such a densely tangled way that it eventually becomes unclear as to who or what is the main focus of the story. (There is an elaborate diagram at the back of the book connecting all the sub-plots together. It doesn't help.)
A large part of the book involves an absurdist account of the cut-and-thrust world of the minor celebrity, with the narrator and his agent caught up in fraught contract negotiations ('Club-Class seats for myself and Zevon, postcards of the local area and that the person meeting me from the airport had to be the person on their staff that looked the most like Postman Pat.') while trying to compete with other celebs for 'ego-puff points'. One of the highlights of this aspect of the book is the character Estrakhan the Wise Pig, a pig that has become a media phenomenon after appearing on a reality TV show, and is now being pushed into all kinds of unsuitable projects to wring some extra mileage out of his new found fame. (Shades of Jade Goody there, although Estrakhan is more easy to sympathise with.)
There is also a meandering plot line that involves the British artificial foot trade, specifically how one of its luminaries attempts to make a protest about Chinese competition by throwing an artificial foot at the visiting Deng Xiaoping. Deng Xiaoping is perhaps most bizarrely presented character in the book- according to Hill he is a violent, animalistic character obsessed with the band Status Quo. Disgraced politician Jonathan Aitken gets off lightly by comparison- spending his time in prison performing a 'Divas of Rock' puppet show using the tattooes of Tina Turner and Sam Fox on his shins.
The book is so fragmented that it's difficult to really figure out what Hill was trying to do, and whether he completely succeeds. There is such a density of amusing ideas and obsessive detail that you can't help but be impressed. Even so, only a few parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, with most of it ticking along, repeating the formula of picking some minor celebrities' names at random and making them do ridiculous things. This description may make the book sound unappealing (although not nearly as much as the back cover blurb does), but if you're a fan of Harry Hill then you could do worse than checking it out.