Published 28 March, 2000.
The Bad Book by Stephen Jones
Paperback – 124 pages.
Published by I.M.P. Fiction, London
Front Cover and Author Photography: Alison levy.
Cover designed by Phil Gambrill and I.M.P. Fiction
Stephen reads from The Bad Book (webcast from 2000)
Publisher text / press release:
That was how it used to be, barefoot on the edge of the razor-blade. Always getting into someone’s bad books. Just being normal.
Hit had been happy as an eight year old. He didn’t want to grow up. He was a sweet kid, but one that wasn’t quite right. He had juvenile insomnia. He was somewhere floating between ME and E-Number hyperactivity. Even the weird bulge under his eye didn’t seem to worry him. He was just happy to fall off the edge of the world and get up again. But then his mother goes missing, and all of a sudden he has to be an adult.
The Bad Book documents a pivotal two days in Hit’s bizarre life, an odd mix of his own fantasy, his father’s seedy reality and a confused dark place somewhere in between. It is a desperate, and disturbing tale of one boy’s fight to win back a normal life. To find his lost mother and keep tabs on his father, the man he suddenly realises he knows nothing about.
This striking debut novel is a unique exploration of memory and shock, showing how memories can dull the pain… for short periods of time.
Stephen Jones is the musical blacksheep BABYBIRD. With eight albums released in five years, one top ten gold album, a top three half-million-selling single, and seven other top forty singles, Stephen continues to mystify and sell music across the world. The Bad Book is Stephen’s first novel, and has nothing to do with music whatsoever.
If you’re mostly into literature where the narrative is more or less straightforward and always offers some sort of inevitable and conclusive purpose, you probably won’t like The Bad Book. But, on the other hand, if you feel compelled to become entrapped in a surreal, bizarre and tragicomic fictional world where both settings and characters remain ambiguous, blurred and estranged from start to finish, you’ll love it! Just as you might love the music and lyrics of Babybird for some or all of the reasons above.
In terms of style, the bleak atmosphere of The Bad Book seems equivalent to some of the short narratives found on the sleeves of the Babybird records – especially the intriguing tales of the man who might or might not have killed his wife and children (‘There’s Something Going On’) or the kids hanging out on the playground (‘Dying Happy’). So if you have read some of these stories you might just have an idea about where we’re at in The Bad Book – or rather, you might never have a clue because none of us will never know where Standstill is, what really happened to Ruby (or William for that matter) or if the Hammerheads will ever bite the hook as Hit is adrift in the small boat out there on the calm green sea.
What we do know is that The Bad Book depicts some two days in the life of the eight-year-old Jay Cee, or Hit as he prefers to be called, and his search through a fading conscious for memories of his beloved mother who has suddenly disappeared. The search takes the reader on a uncanny journey through the pages of William Coke’s diary (The Bad Book?), and through the history of seaside village Standstill where people go/escape for three-year periods for doing something that was not quite worth jail and begin new lives for a while.
This indistinguishable, distorted reality built upon a nuclear bump and where hammerhead sharks patrol the surrounding waters is Hit’s only point of departure in his search – at least when his attention is not diverted by his father’s (who pins dead flies on a board and gives them names) unsettling presence and the reoccurring flow of gruesome television channels with fake, bingo-crazed evangelists and violent computer games.
The Bad Book is mostly told through the eyes of Hit which reveals him as young and uninformed with a child’s need for care and loving concern, but which also at times sees him with an adult’s initiative and ability to understand the strange surrounding world. Hit is, in the truest sense of the word, unique. At times an omniscient narrator fills in some of the blanks in Hit’s insomnia-plagued memory and adds small but important clues and missing details to the otherwise perplexing tale.
The above is a quick summery of this surreal tale that is The Bad Book. What is not obvious before having actually read the book is its richness in imaginative metaphors and its intelligent way of keeping the bizarre interesting. You just have to keep turning those pages to find out more about Hit’s uncertain mystery in a world that is both outlandishly strange and, oddly enough, somehow familiar.
So in general, The Bad Book matches both the lyrics and music of Stephen Jones – but it’s also a huge step forward for him in terms of inventiveness and inspiration. Not that I think he feels he has be prove anything to either fans or critics, but after shaking off that one-hit-wonder-ironic-pop-star-image its time to move on to new unknown territory. And in that respect, The Bad Book is not only a great new effort, it’s also remarkable debut. Can’t wait for the next one.
NB: Ever heard of ‘Bad Shave’?: ‘The underarm rollerball for sensitive women’. Invisible protection