Friday, December 28, 2007

DAAS Book by the Doug Anthony Allstars

From the favourer: "Now, where did I leave my literary pretensions? Not at your place are they? Oh no, here they are: The Doug Anthony All-Stars were the future of comedy that never became its past - DAAS Book displays why this (so frequently) goes without saying. Existentially rich, philosophically profound, emotionally purile - its omissions are as tellling as many a great work's content."

This was not the book I was expecting. I'm not sure it was the book the blurb-writer was expecting either, as they seem to have written their blurb before actually reading it. This seems to be a recurring theme with the books I'm reading - at this rate I'm expecting the blurb of Wuthering Heights to describe it as a slapstick verse novel.

But DAAS Book is something of a difficult book to describe, aside from saying that if you have ever seen the Doug Anthony Allstars perform, or if you haven't, it won't be what you're expecting. The closest I can get is to ask you to image an absurdist exercise in revulsion and surrealist dream sequences, teamed with a carefully signposted jigsaw of a mystery that is only just too complicated to keep in your head all at once.

Oh, and some of it is prose and some of it is comic-strip style. And there's a lot of bodily fluids.

Got that? Right. Let us move along.

When I started reading, I was basically expecting the DAAS version of Monty Python's Big Red Book or Spike Milligan's A Dustbin of Milligan, ie. a compilation of funny bits and pieces. By about page 24 (yes, a little slow on the uptake), I finally noticed there was a story. So I turned back to page 1 and started reading again, which was a good idea because this is a book where you're rewarded for taking notice and putting it all together.

Penanse Kihhes is confined to a wheelchair, and cared for by the repulsive and cruel D. But there's more going on behind Kihhes' blank stare than D. suspects. Kihhes knows things that are likely to shorten his lifespan if D. thinks he could communicate them to anyone. But recently, Kihhes has started typing. With his head. He can't move his arms and legs, but he can bang his face on the typewriter keyboard. It looks like a mess of random letters, but it's making D. anxious.

Through flashbacks, stories, comic-strip sequences and a drunken road-trip taken by the DAAS boys themselves, we can gradually piece together the connections between D., Kihhes, the Hogman, the whore, and numerous other characters.

To paraphrase a line from the book, its repulsion is its attraction. I kept making the mistake of reading this book while I was eating, and having to put it down again. I'm not particularly squeamish - barring cat spew - but I think putting it down briefly is understandable if you're encountering geriatric sex scenes as imagined by D. in his horror of getting old (erm, warning for faint of stomach to skip next paragraph):

"There are bits of tooth coming loose from the bleeding gums, through chipped enamel they exchange saliva, pus, blood, as the dentures slip from mouth to mouth and back again...There they gyrate, undulate in a sea of blood, and pus and spit and piss like salt and shit and crippled semen dripping off his wang and they swim in it, an ebb tide of oozing flesh."

It's a bit like watching early Peter Jackson - it makes you a bit nauseous, but it's hard to look away. Though even D. has his own wisdom gleaned from inspecting the bedpans of the patients he cares for, my favourite of which is: "People may disguise the shit in their lives, but they cannot disguise the shit from their arse."

The second half of the book veers away somewhat from the spectacularly scatological - though there's still a healthy amount of vomit - and includes more drawings and humour (in typically black-edged, nasty DAAS style). There are some lovely, darkly florid sequences, such as Tim's dream of escaping as a young boy from an ancient aunt into the depths of the garden:

"...he slips from view, a canopy of twisting branches, with heavy fruit, hidden from her prying cataracts he lies now, in shorts with short-sleeved shirt, his thin brown bones protruding obscenely on his back, for a moment drops of sunlight anoint his forest floor, a fire races over the leaves still wet with dew, a carpet of broken snail shells, dead from well placed pellets, a sticky trail like his own dried spit, criss-cross from dead slugs' arses, spider webs of the same fine spit hold gingerly their gracious carcasses - as unwilling guests as he."

Most of all, I enjoyed wondering this book out, picking up tiny references back to past events that link together some of the puzzle. Of course, I also inescapably enjoyed feeling rather clever about myself when I noticed them. Despite the fact that everyone must do the same, and more so. I was so intrigued that by the end, where a 'facsimile' of Kihhes' head-banging typewriter stylings are printed, I wandered over them for far longer than my "I-hate-sudoku-and-IQ-puzzles" attention span usually permits. I think I was rewarded for this (and not just with an eye-strain headache).

DAAS Book will quickly confound any confidence you have that you've worked it out. Right when you find a narrative it becomes a patchwork, and vice versa.

It's a weird book. One minute it dares you to make sense of it, and the next it teases you for taking it seriously:

"Infinity is relative."

"Aeroplanes don't kill you. The ground does."

"Read the print before you read between the lines."

"Never trust a dog with two dicks."

If you see what I mean. I love a book that messes with your head.