By Liza Granville

Steve Redwood Raises Outraged Trotters

Curing the Pig is an evil, evil book, a horrifying tragedy in which the noble hero, Morgan, a perfectly normal farting, belching, filthy-joke-repeating, vest-wearing, penis-stroking bloke with hairy back and fingers, is sacked from his bank job just because of some innocent light-hearted comments about 'pussy-power' and for drunkenly accusing his woman boss of being a witch with six nipples and of making passes at him. Returning home to the family farm in the Welsh Marches, where English and Welsh insanity rub off on each other, he witnesses the murder of his mother's vegetable patch by Venus the sow, the murder of his father by his mother, and then of his mother by Venus. After the funeral, with the help of his mother's 'wine' (ingredients: anything yucky) and some very pretty mushrooms, he is hurled into an alternate world where women rule (yes, rule!) and treat men as sex objects (yes, sex objects!). And fumble them and judge them by their bodies! And make them wear funny clothes and have names like Hyacinth and Violet! By the end, naturally, our poor shocked hero has been reduced to a gibbering wreck, his spirit so broken by this monstrous society that he even contemplates the possibility of a world in which women have equality. Oink! I was reminded of Orwell's 1984, where at the end a broken Winston has no choice but to love Big Brother.

Yet the author of this detestable tract is not content with chuckling hideously at the cruel degradation of this jolly nice young man, but even suggests that he is but one of many, many pigs! Who all need curing! Well! I am left oinkless! The story as such doesn't even really begin until page 25, as the early pages are devoted in the main to a frantic bumble-bee tour of every reference (and non-reference: Francis Bacon the author of Richard III indeed!) to pigs in mythology and indeed everywhere else. This wide range of allusion throughout the book--to worldwide mythologies, religions, folklore, ancient authors, Jungian psychology, even the wilder reaches of astronomy, etc.--usually serves the author's fiendish purpose well, taking the hapless reader way beyond the particular and into perennial themes, distracting him from the essential evil of her central thesis with erudition and wit. Sometimes, however, the display of knowledge (or research?) does seem to be dragged in for its own sake--abstruse taxonomical names, Welsh terms thrown in by people who usually happily speak English, lists of different names of mythological beings, lectures on blackthorn or on Sheela-na-gig; Puck's listing of cheeses especially, while initially funny, becomes irritating, as it is not a selected list which might have some special relevance to the story. Every now and then I wondered, 'But does this detail belong in this book?' But, these moments aside, one of the great strengths of this book is precisely that it is a bit like one of Mam's stews, an enormous variety of tastes and flavours from which all blandness has been banned.

Indeed, this occasional showing-off (and a rather poorly worked out version of the three wishes idea) is about the only weakness to be found in the book. It is chock-a-block with delightful and even hilarious scenes, such as the hero's christening, his father Dai's final epic battle against his Mam, Pritchard-Evans the Limp's delight in finding the corpses of Morgan's parents, the son's shock when the vicar plans to bury his parents together. And that's just the early part of the book!

The characters are superb, many recalling Stella Gibbons--but wilder and funnier, if not so deeply drawn--or Dickens, or even, in the surreal exaggeration, Monty Python: the magnificently awful psychotic Mam, with her red line in the bath above which no water was ever to rise, is perhaps the most memorable character, but Mrs Pritchard-Evans, warm-hearted witch, kleptomaniac, mother manqué, comes close. And I have to confess to being rather guiltily fond of the female monster Kerridwins as she pushes our poor hero into the cauldron...

The best character, though, is the main one: Morgan Llewelyn Padrig Arthur Caradoc Jones-Jones. Like Milton with Satan in Paradise Lost, our author, in seeking to justify the ways of woman to man, has been unable to hide her secret admiration for the enemy. Real pearls (such as the vicious yet funny description of the unsexy Pam--'what was she for?' - and his reactions to the Mothers' gropings) are put in Morgan's mouth, and are so just and true the author's intention that we should see this as satire is, well, laughable! Oink. So, painful though it is to admit, this book could be enjoyed by men too. Greatly and rib-ticklingly enjoyed. (Not by real men, of course, men who understand that a jolly good spanking, or a quick shagging, are all that a woman deserves, but by the watery sort being produced these days who waste time wondering what women think.)

I will confess the book isn't feminist at all in the popular sense of the word. The advocates of female supremacy would frown mightily upon our author for allowing her protagonist to see the weaknesses of a society ruled by sexist women. The book attacks the pig, whether male or female. Granville does at least have the decency to blame Morgan's mother who had 'made his journey through life such an empty, yearning one...' We shall not allow ourselves to be distracted, of course, by the sly comment about the mother 'hating and/or fearing men--(and why? And why? What had happened in her past?)'.

If we can forget the foul subversive intention (equality, my twitching trotters! Whatever next!) we can admire the wit and imagination that informs every paragraph of this most original book. The invention is stunning. Even dogs and cats, let alone pigs, come across as memorable characters. Even potatoes have their say! Sometimes, just sometimes, the highly original humour wavers, and we get straight shoot-from-the-hip moralizing (Morgan's question and the ultimate answer, for instance), but this is rare.

Finally, the language. Marvellous. There is hardly a boring sentence in the book, and certainly you will never spot a cliché. Just one example among many: Mrs Pritchard-Evans' face 'as round and lumpy as an old-fashioned suet pudding boiled in a bag in the copper along of the washing, with withered-up black currants for eyes and a chapel-prim little worm-in-the-rosebud mouth sucked in where she'd left all her teeth out for reasons of economy... pink rubber gloves flapped like displaced gills from the poachers' pockets of her outsize-plus green tabard'. The Cold Comfort-ish farm, the kitchen, and the characters--all are presented with words that won't even consider the possibility of dullness.

Such a pity, then, that all this skill, wit, learning, perception, and invention, is used to try to undermine a perfectly acceptable status quo.

Well, the little woman should have finished cooking my supper by now. After we eat, and she's washed up, I think I'll get her to dress up in that cute French maid's uniform I bought her for Christmas...

Women, and watered-down men, might like to take a look at some other reviews: like the Bible, Curing the Pig is a book that should be read on the principle of know thine enemy. No less than six highly positive reviews can be found here:

Curing the Pig by Liza Granville. Flame Books tpb, 254pp, £8(ex p&p)

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Steve Redwood is the author of the British Fantasy Society-nominated (but not Vatican-approved) novel Fisher of Devils, and the story collection The Heisenberg Mutation, and is a contributor to the Hugo and World Fantasy Award runner-up Thackery T Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, as well as to the upcoming Mammoth Book of New Comic Fantasy, and Darkness Rising anthology.

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