-Reviewed by Andie Berryman–
When I first read this book, I had to question if a post-punk, Channel 5-addicted, hipster had written it. All the tropes are there: the weed-addicted chef; the weirdo across the hall; the bleak landscape (both in Nottingham and in the unnamed Norfolk seaside town); the ugly mass in the Jobcentre; the loss of the dream of becoming an artist.
We follow this semi-autobiographical tumble into the warren of poverty and encounter characters as if they’d stumbled inebriated into a fast food bar at two am, and you’re unlucky enough to have to serve them. Tellingly, Beaney illustrates and writes these characters and even his own penis in black and white and grotesque; things that he should connect with, but because of poverty he cannot.
This is a story of disconnection and discombobulation caused by media: if you’re poor, you’re a loser; if you are fat, how can you possibly be poor?
This moves us onto the next inspection of the text, introspection (as we know it) is missing, but the disgust and the functioning of the body is at the heart of the story. In the Jobcentre he is an automaton, seasoned to the rules and obliged to follow them for the sake of survival: for the sake of survival he must see the other jobseekers as a grotesque swirl of ugly poor people. He can’t be like them; he’s an artist.
Like we see in the arts, you have to volunteer to get exposure, comfort is sought and found, it may fill the soul, but it doesn’t fill the stomach. The starving artist becomes obsessed with food, because he needs to fill his soul, but this is England in 2016, and you need a call centre job to buy food, that’s what you got a degree for, a call centre job or a job as a barista, but:
I was just to old and filled with contempt for the general public to serve panini’s.
It’s these smatterings of comic phrase that keep you reading this story, the dark humour that carries you though like a crappy battery-powered bike you bought off gumtree, which you are still in dispute with the seller over.
The narrative includes a lot of discussion about what to do with the artist’s genitals: to get the thing to work, to feel human. Indeed when researching the author, genitals ‘come ‘ at the top of the list. I can only assume we are working at the primal edge of masculinity: if you can’t ejaculate, you can’t procreate, you’re not a man. So the semi-autobiographical character grows a beard, learns to disgust himself, calls himself ‘underclass’ and can only get a ‘hard on’ under the direst of circumstances. He labels himself ‘jobless’, ‘loser’, ‘repellent’ and ‘unable to procreate’.
The style of writing is blithe and confessional, the art imagery is blunt and crude. Together they paint a picture of one story of poverty, because as the title suggests, poverty is complex and sometimes inscrutable. Notes From An Overweight Starving Artist aims to erase the clear-cut images of what poverty looks like.