God’s Pretty Game of Grotesque Puppets

Sex, death and madness…

…are continuing themes that resonate even when diminuendo in so many of our efforts to express understanding of the human condition. More than anything else they unite art and science as a source of endeavour in that enterprise. Reflect for yourself if you will on what the basic questions of science (including social science), the celebrated works of culture and philosophy, are about. This is merely a book review.

But back in the commercial print world my search engine informs me that Romance and Erotica are way top in $ volume followed at a distance by crime/mystery and religious/inspirational as the top three by a fair margin.

Dominic Francis’ book God’s Pretty Game of Grotesque Puppets could arguably play in all these categories and so should do well. It also happens to be an exceptional if some would argue at first taste, weird piece of work suffused with all three themes. It is however, very well written. There is narrative energy and vivid imagery. Dialogue and characterisation are almost filmic. The storyline is of a Withnail and I type. Although, Billy Connolly’s description of his own story-telling in his quasi-autobiographical book Tall Tales expresses the style better: ‘…my stories [are] kind of lumpy and strange. They are a merry-go-round of memories, observations and fantasies. They are not story-shaped, they are me-shaped’.

Francis’ shape is determined by the death of his much-loved mother when he was in his early teens, a retreat into drugs and survival of an eighty-foot ‘flight’ from a notorious North London road bridge. He knows what being sectioned is like. No stranger to writing and song-making (in 2018 he won the Reuel Prize for Best Upcoming Poet), this is his first full novel.

While he and his talent are on his own admission a ‘work in progress’ for this reviewer at least Francis, (or ‘Walking Doctor Tonnan’ his adopted identity for the tale) already belongs in the company of Henry Miller, William Burroughs and J.P.Donleavy – and for me, Martin Millar. The ability to make sex, death and madness entertaining as well as challenging; to get the laughter essential to our humanity woven into the narrative, is a rare skill.

Well worth ordering now.

God’s Pretty Game of Grotesque Puppets, by Dominic Francis, ISBN9798600868571 is available from Amazon

One thought on “God’s Pretty Game of Grotesque Puppets

  • March 22, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Hi, thanks so much for this lovely review. The book was originally called ‘The Inauguration of Insanity’ but became increasingly dominated by sex, relationships & a yearning for the past. The following are my thoughts on suicide, and my status as a schizophrenic & its ‘complications’.

    I’m Dominic Francis, or Walking Doctor Tonnan, and I’ve faced every one of the ‘complications’ associated with schizophrenia listed on http://www.mayoclinic.org multiple times in my life. Despite my status as a person of exceptional ability and fame (which is awarded to me by symptoms of schizophrenia), in the future I shall be trying my best to avoid the majority of these ‘severe problems’.

    Suicidal thoughts, attempts, idealation, etc? I should perhaps deem them a byproduct of my ‘illness’. After all, I’ve already pondered myself to the doctored & dichotomous epiphany that there’s actually nothing wrong with the world but something deeply wrong with me! This something ‘requires lifelong treatment’. But are these professional psychiatrists stating a scientific fact or a personal opinion? They so rarely speak to anyone like I’m speaking to you now, and perhaps that’s what sometimes makes suicide appear attractive, but frankly that’s just my personal opinion.

    I suppose it is a fact, though, that in a lot of cases a suicide attempt prevent pain from eventually entering one’s mind & body & soul. I believe, however, that my own suicide attempt gave me a ghastly amount of additional pain and yet actually increased my life expectancy. I did a lot of drugs before I jumped off a bridge or became officially schizophrenic; not being able to walk more than three steps on a Zimmer frame, too, gave me some ten months in hospital beds to contemplate how recklessly I had lived my life. I don’t think I would change much if I had the chance to live those eighteen years again: maybe I would have kissed someone a little less expressively in a bar once & gone back to hers & had sex, and maybe I wouldn’t have been so academically driven.

    My God, though, did I have enormous love and subtle hate for the world. Sometimes I was a stoned antagonist in a jazz club out of Kerouac’s On the Road; sometimes I was the perfect image of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, soberly gazing at the green light and desperately wishing to fashion a future out of the past. I think that both those intense sensations encapsulate the nature of the human condition rather than reflect anyinternal insanity. My opinion is that young people considering taking drugs should probably let other people do it for them and enlighten them by art. But suicide? Me? I don’t think so. Not anymore I often think of death, but I ‘m sure sure I even once wanted to die completely. When I jumped off Archway Bridge, I just wanted to see what happened. The realisation crystallised in my mind that I have always been alive and will always be alive, because there is ultimately no time in this eternity… go figure.

    [To clarify, you are either here or you are not. You are either existing or not existing. If you were to die in the next second and not enter another plane of existence for the rest of forever, you wouldn’t be able to look back on life in an hour or year and wish you were back there. Forever we live & we die forever. Anyway, it usually takes a lot of effort to die well and so why would you want to do it? For nothing at all? It’s a sad & beautiful world.]

    Anxiety disorder? Sometimes I do feel extremely nervous about something I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the fact that I am constantly ‘being monitored’ & ‘assessed’ by the state. In fact, the listed complications of schizophrenia, all of which I suffer from, often give me rational reason to summon some form of anxiety disorder for the purpose of adrenaline’s stimulants.

    Obsessive compulsive disorder? The lunacy of the very concept of ‘the problems associated with schizophrenia’ expressed here with candid lucidity (and some self-conscious lunacy) in this writing is proof of my inability to extricate myself from the confines of my own pedantry. Maybe I should stop trying to be creative and spend money I can’t afford to spend to burn calories that I can’t afford to burn at the gym. There are so many ways to waste time trying to be a good citizen, and none of them involve love or deep conversation, because neither love nor deep conversation are a waste of time.

    Depression? I’ll have to overcome that black dog by myself, if it ever rears its head again. Would it help to live in an isolated, secured hospital ward for another fucking 3.5 years of my life so that I can get the proper treatment to face reality and the real world again after being suddenly magically cured of all my ‘severe problems’ and ‘complications’?

    Abuse of alcohol and other drugs? My way of treating depression and anxiety is the use of drugs. When does use become abuse? For me, too early to tell.

    Inability to work? I’ve applied for four jobs this month but haven’t got one reply. Anyway, I am already self-employed at Fried Thought 4 Food, 8:30pm to 11am, six days a week.

    Regarding financial problems and homelessness, I’ve spent four nights on the street (one of those was out of choice) and I know what being pretty poor is like… sometimes I have had to go hungry [I’m not as skinny as I once was – my BMI is 26.5, which is labelled ‘overweight’]. Luckily, though, I can say that I haven’t experienced extreme poverty as I’m in receipt of benefits from the welfare state and live in a first world country. [As an aside, I haven’t ever stolen from the government before, but I have stolen around $300 worth of stuff from the capitalists throughout my lifetime.] Overall, financial problems & homelessness issues affect my own person only somewhat, though I spent three years in a homeless hostel & still live in state-funded ‘supported accommodation’.

    Social isolation? Quite a lot of the time I am imprisoned on a hospital wing, and almost all of the time it’s not actually my choice with whom I interact & for how long. But I do enjoy spending time with people, so I’m not sure if I am ‘socially isolated’.

    Aggressive behaviour? There’s no smoke without fire. You would have thought I sometimes have reason to be aggressive, given the fact that I could be taken into hospital at any time because I have so many problems. But this somewhat intangible ‘schizophrenia’ & resulting hospital admissions – that is, the government deeming my behaviour to be socially unsatisfactory & locking me in a ward – caused the majority of all the problems I have had in the past, and I had a hard time solving them.

    The first time I got admitted into mental hospital I was 18 and stoned on skunk. Back then, I was a placid guy. Someone actually told me I was a ‘pretty placid guy’ less than a week before I was admitted. I think he was coming onto me. Back then, I never got angry. Nowadays, I’m ‘aggressive’ three times a year and that’s it.

    Idiotic doctors, who haven’t ever taken a psychedelic drug or wept as an adult, are so ruthlessly effective at being normal. Have they ever thought a strange thought in their lives or ever wondered whether the subconscious guru of their own brilliant minds might be simultaneously simulating the rest of ‘Reality’ while they play shrink? Perhaps the way I conduct myself is the problem, but I’m almost always a friendly guy. What gives them the right to imprison me in a ward? I wonder if this all actually stems for a misconceived preconception of normality in the first place.

    Yes, if all of my brushes with Mental Health staff are being taped and reviewed by (the) God(s), which they probably are, then some doctors and nurses look severely ill to most any eye & ear, let alone those of the deities. Some nurse & doctors are particularly entitled, nosy and overly officious, so probably represent the epitome of a madman in God’s mind. I reckon so anyway. You may call me schizophrenic if I may call you insane.

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