A review of Escaping Reality by Geoff Nelder

Well written, clever and full of black wit Escaping Reality is a hard to put down, stylish romp. There are laugh outloud moments, in prison, on the run, and back in prison again, plenty of twists, a compelling cast, an evocative setting, and heartbeating drama. This is the kind of book you can read in a few days or less, and then pick up again for another round, solely for the pleasure of it.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Escaping Reality
By Geoff Nelder
Brambling Books
Sept 2005, ISBN 0-9549563-2-X

The title says it all. Geoff Nelder’s Escaping Reality is a lighthearted romp which will drag the reader away from any mundane reality into the slapstick pleasure of his saxophonist protagonist Gerry Rickett’s world. Although the coyish self-deprecating Ricketts accuses himself of being gormless, he manages to survive a range of boys-own adventures on his way from the bottom up with “jack-the-lad” cunning. The story puts the reader in the picture immediately as the book opens with Rickett’s arrest for jewellery theft and murder:

My tinnitus was bad too, although it could have been the cacophony of the jeweller’s alarm, the police siren and all the shouting. I wasn’t shouting. You can’t shout when most of your mouth is under water and you are experiencing compression injuries.
The adrenaline-induced syrupy-slowness of time was supposed to be beneficial, but it might be better to experience disasters quickly. Get them over with. On the other hand it gave me time to recollect what had happened. (9)

As the novel is written in first person, the reader is immediately sympathetic to the cocky Ricketts, whose innocence is accepted by the reader without question. His dawning sense of the unreliability of those around him, along with the odd but effective combination of humorous sarcasm mingled with incredulity makes Ricketts an excellent protagonist, keeping the reader involved through the force of his personality. Ricketts refuses to feel sorry for himself, and hatches a plan to break out of prison and clear his name. Bubble wrap sex, a computer virus, and a white van are all part of the serendipity as Rickett’s works his way out of prison and away from his Dickensian fellow prisoners, who steal his phone cards and lumpy porridge.

At times the plot does strain credulity, and Ricketts’ sexual exploits, however well drawn, are about as likely as his eventual victory over bureaucracy, a drug cartel, and to a lesser extent, the forces of ennui. He almost makes being on the run sound easy, although there are plenty of cold, wet nights, brakeless cycle rides, smelly sheds, and a little farmhouse nookie. Because this is such a fun story, and Rickett’s such a compelling character, verisimilitude is the least important thing about Escaping Reality. Nelder builds suspense well, using foreshadowing, pacing and rhythm to speed up the book where necessary:

I remembered something important just in time and went back in and switched on Wendy’s computer. Come on. Why does it have to take so long? Now, bash in the user name and password. I had already written a little batch file so all I had to do was click on Start, Run and type ‘gone.bat’ and the virus went off. I paused idiotically, listening at the radio-room door and feeling rather uncomfortable at the silence within. Shrugging my shoulders I went out into the corridor.

So far so good, no one there, so I walked as much as I could like a workman. Hands in pockets, whistling, maybe walking a bit too fast. Probably best I didn’t whistle, I couldn’t hit the correct B flat for ‘I dreamed a dream’ anyway. I reached the outside door and resisted looking around and so showing my face to anyone who might have been in the car park. Head down but with eyes up enough to see a white transit van with its rear door open. I closed the door and taking the keys out of my right jacket pocket I opened the unlocked driver’s door. (46)

Never do we doubt Rickett’s story, since the first person narrative places us on the road with him. The reader wants and expects Ricketts to find the real criminal and get his compensation. Rickett’s crimes are small (stealing a prized motorbike, humiliating his girlfriend and putting his friends in danger), especially in comparison to the real bad guys, and he never intends to do any harm. Like his friend Preston, whose name he uses while on the run, his mal-used wife, and his (reasonably mal-used) moll (who has a few secrets of her own), the reader is prepared to not only forgive, but support Gerry Ricketts, making this a very satisfying read.

The unlikely heroism is also bolstered by an authentic and well drawn setting. Nelder’s prison avoids cliché, as it focuses, with great humour, on the day to day details of life:

It might all look like and have a similar texture to different coloured mash but each hue had its own distinctive flavour, which wasn’t too unpleasant. Indeed, some of the green stuff did have some brown and green nodules, which had survived the blending process. Unfortunately it turned out this was because they were made of granite or had the same effect on my teeth as if they were. In fact their capture was quite difficult if an attempt was made to stab them with a plastic fork instead of the ubiquitous spoon. I could not resist the in-joke when one tiddly-winked up and onto the table from which it bounced on the floor and away.

‘Look, an escapee.’ Not even a glimmer of a grimace. Embarrassed, I finished my meal, grateful that I didn’t add the one about the dessert being in protective custardy. (16)

Similarly Nelder’s description of Amsterdam is rich with detail, taking us around the docks and deep into the heart of Westerdok:

It would be beneficial for my friends if I just buggered back to Britain, but at least on the boat I wouldn’t be putting their lives at risk. I let him drive my knapsack, helmet and me to one of the quay sides in Westerdok. You would hardly guess that this area of regenerated warehouses, offices and boats was just off the northern edge of Amsterdam centre. Many of the barges were immaculately decorated and festooned with flowers growing in pots of every size. Then we came to my boat. Laatset afbetaling. It was wood brown, mainly because of the absence of paint and was lower in the water than the rest. (184)

The mystery reveals itself bit by bit through a number of straight and crooked policemen, along with a few cases of Glod beer, plenty of camaraderie, and another continental shift. Well written, clever and full of black wit Escaping Reality is a hard to put down, stylish romp. There are laugh outloud moments, in prison, on the run, and back in prison again, plenty of twists, a compelling cast, an evocative setting, and heartbeating drama. This is the kind of book you can read in a few days or less, and then pick up again for another round, solely for the pleasure of it. For more information on Escaping Reality visit: http://geoffnelder.com/ERinfo.htm

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