Peter Burnett - The city is like a TV show that wants only to humiliate him, to grab the old fellow's neck and force him to shop.


Peter Burnett, Odium, Thirsty Books, 2004.

A man asleep, Rubio flees Paris for the Egyptian desert. He escapes his back-biting colleagues, the proximity of his ex-wife, and the depressions that he diagnoses daily in the medical surgery.
And Paris hates Rubio too.
The city is like a TV show that wants only to humiliate him, to grab the old fellow's neck and force him to shop.
The city is after him, and Rubio is running for his life, running down a slope while memory rides behind, ever so gently applying the brakes.
Existentialist and full of sharp observation of Western values, Odium is a novel for our time.

I planned my second novel, Odium, to be a tip of the hat to the French existentialist novels that I enjoyed as a teenager - you know the ones - Camus, Sartre, and that crowd. 
Thus, the novel is set in Paris and North Africa, and the character is French, with not a Scotsperson in sight.

Peter Burnett’s first novel, The Machine Doctor, marked him out as a highly gifted writer. Odium is a darker tale, cosy as a bed of nails. It reads like an extended panic attack. Rubio, a chain-smoking Parisian doctor with a penchant for noodles and the campaigns of Napoleon, travels to Egypt on what turns out to be a respite-free break. We first encounter him leaving a concert in the Place de L’Opera with his wife, Virginie. The ceiling of the foyer is elaborately decorated with enamelled cupids and gods frozen in ironic contemplation of the departing audience, whose chatter rings in Rubio's ears like tinnitus. He hates being trapped in the herd.
He fails to avert the dreaded post-mortem. Intent on eliciting affirmation that they have had a good night out, Virginie coaxes him into a smart bar nearby, where the air glitters with clever commentary. Her efforts to engage him on the merits of the orchestra is met by such a dearth of response that her attention flickers around. Everyone seems to be having a far better time than she is. Though she must realise that seeking emotional solace from her husband is an exercise in emotional self-laceration, she embarks on a reprise of her cherished theory that she could have been a concert performer, blaming her lack of success on her fingers being too “short and stubby”. Rubio's doubt is tethered in silence. Silence can be taken as acquiescence. Rubio feels like a fraud. Their marriage is a hunched shell of mutual disappointment.
At his shabby surgery, in the seven minutes his congested schedule affords, Rubio tries to offer each patient a listening ear and an honest prescription. Increasingly they turn up with afflictions that are not physiological, begging or hectoring him to provide a key, chemical or otherwise, that might release them from their existential nightmares. He advises them to cut out television or shunts them on to the tender mercies of an analyst. During one consultation he scribbles on his pad,
Depression as an atheism, moderns proud of their lack of belief. Their denial of transcendence.” On another occasion a fraught mother tries to convince him that her baby is suffering from depression and requires medication. He gives the proposition serious consideration. In these times the contagion of hopelessness is spreading rampantly. He suffers from it himself.
While the well-heeled citizens of Paris void their energies on lifestyle displays, deliver smug ironies or congratulate themselves on their epicurean superiority, Rubio withdraws into pessimism, a hollow man. His marriage is over and his friendships have turned rancid. There seems to be nothing worth saying, and no way of saying it if there were. He invests his surviving speck of optimism in the prospect of a holiday in north Africa.
Baking grids of streets and blockhouses provide a sun-scourged contrast to the architectural vanities of Paris, but Rubio soon discovers that the shadows are just as harsh. Egypt is “rich and barbarous” and potholed with menace. Hardly has he arrived than he is mugged, twice. First he loses his money. The staff at the Hotel Bel Air, “the only monument to Imperial France” in Mersa, are entirely unsympathetic. They glare contemptuously at his “wormy” French passport and hustle him off the premises. In the street he stumbles to the ground and finds himself eyeballing the rotting corpse of a cat. He notices there is a pale patch on his wrist where his watch once was. Astonished rather than angry at the loss of this favourite possession, he gets back into the hotel through a broken back door and within minutes finds himself snared into a surreal chain of events.
A small boy approaches and asks for help. He leads Rubio to a room where his mother lies, prostrate with drink. She rouses herself sufficiently to scrimmage a pack of cigarettes from the tangle of bed linen and clothes and Rubio proves all too eager to join her in her quest for oblivion, smoking and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. And for her that really is the case. Rubio makes a foray to get some ice but when he returns is dazed to discover that she has died. He takes it upon himself to return the child to his father in the ancient city of Siwa where the houses are carved out of the rock.
Rubio never joins the tourist contingent, that “happy sect of optimists”. Circumstance demolishes his projected itinerary and though he smokes his way through pack after pack of Cleopatras, he never manages to see the sphinx. It crouches in the desert, a petrified primordial mystery, always just out of frame.
As an author Peter Burnett is not in the business of fuelling hubris. He is concerned with questions about meaning, value and the nature of authenticity. In Odium he delivers a timely warning about the consequences of materialism, using caricature as the scalpel of his philosophy. - RICHARD HOLLOWAY

Peter Burnett, The Machine Doctor, Argyll Publishing, 2001.

Democracy in action thought the Council: give everyone a free computer. Link them up. Let the lying begin.
Viven, who works by day as a battery hen, is employed to keep the network free of viruses. But secretly she collects them.  And they aren't happy in their cage.
The most advanced city council in the world meets on-line. Some are wearing no pants. This is Aberdeen. The Stone Age is now.

The Machine Doctor was my first novel - described in the blurb as humorous and satirical. I can here confirm that it is both.  Set in present day Aberdeen, The Machine Doctor tells how the silicon chip developed from the standing stones, and how idiocy and dining out became the norm for the mobile phone waving populace of Scotland.
As a child, gifted mathematician Vivien designed labour-saving domestic robots to please her father. Now she has developed a Computer Network at the behest of a local technology firm and the Aberdeen City Council. She also works on the Network Helpdesk, a member of the boom call centre industry, spokesperson for an unskilled and uncaring workforce.  A call centre chicken.

"WHEN was the last time you read a Scottish novel, about Scotland, that was serious, politically engaged, and, most importantly, made you laugh? Chances are, a fair wee bit ago. Over the last 20 years, there has been a slough of self-disgust novels about Scotland. Thank goodness, therefore for Peter Burnett's book."
Stuart Kelly
". . . an exhilarating and anarchic comedy shot through with a withering social commentary" - Scotland on Sunday
". . . a superbly written book, a fast-paced novel of roller-coaster proportions. Burnett is a brilliant new talent" - The Journal
". . . an ambitious, multi-voiced satire on the soul-destroying mind-numbing effects of computers in the 21st century. . . fast-paced, insightful and frequently hilarious" - The List

". . . satire as sharp as a sponge" - Sunday Herald

The Studio Game by Peter Burnett

Peter Burnett, The Studio Game, Fledgling Press, 2012. 

We just read this and we love it. It’s a bitter, wry, sad, wild, thoughtful adventure around the contemporary art world and what a mixed-up state it’s in. It’s also a tender book about love and Marcel Duchamp, wonderfully anti capitalist, anti conformist, and pro ocean bottom.
‘All my life I had been an artist. I had let the idea run riot fifty seven minutes every hour. That left two minutes for dreaming – thirty seconds for doubting – fifteen seconds for loving the world – seven seconds for resolving that I could do something about it, and four seconds for high consciousness. For two seconds of each hour I stared at my hands or felt my trousers – and for one second every hour I allowed my normally sublimated sexual desire a chance to think what it wanted. Half a second every hour of the day was spent in fright, and a half of that was spent in remembering my childhood. You can calculate my free time from there.’ -

The Studio Game by Peter Burnett, follows a young couple trying to ‘make it big’ in the contemporary art world. However, Liska and Guy Poynti ng believe the only way that this can be achieved is through their own death.
Having completed their final collection, the couple plan to jump hand in hand from a ferry bound for the Orkney Islands. Guy loses his courage at the last moment and leaves his soul mate to plunge alone into the icy depths of the North Sea. As was the plan, Liska’s paintings become the most sought after work amongst the art dealers of Aberdeen but, contrary to her dying wish, her collection of 58 paintings is dispersed amongst different owners and galleries. An aimless and heartbroken Guy falls in with a crowd of ‘art activists’ who are determined to see Liska’s work destroyed if it cannot be preserved as one collection.
Set around the pubs, galleries and artist’s squats of Aberdeen, the city is depicted in The Studio Game as being populated by struggling artists, oil magnates, militant ‘art activists’ and frustrated, yet erudite, traffic wardens. Aberdeen appears as a mesmerising place with Guy as a troubled and often drunken flâneur. We see the city through the eyes of Guy as he struggles with the grief of losing Liska, and the guilt he feels at losing the courage to follow her to an early grave. However, through such chaos comes order, eventually. Burnett uses Guy’s descent of Guy to explore themes of love, loss, the nature of creativity and the relationship between art and commerce.
The Studio Game raises big questions about the art ‘game’: when does art become art?; who do we define as ‘artists’?; what makes a successful artist?; how do we define success? These issues are never resolved nor are they, I suspect, meant to be. Instead, each character promulgates their different opinions with as much conviction as any other.
The Studio Game is a satirical commentary on the contemporary art world, a fictional playground of (also) heavyweight intellectual theory as big ideas are thrashed out by a cast of unlikely characters. At one point, a tea room filled with artists working as traffic wardens offers a scene rife with comic dialogue that moves from a literal huddle of work-mates to a cluster of debating intellectuals as they discuss their insights and experiences of art. This scene is comic, one warden recalls giving “Tracy Emin a parking ticket… but she framed it and sold it for £6000”. These absurd and self-deprecating flashes of appear throughout the book, offering respite from the darker inner monologue of Guy Poynting; there is also some authenticity in the North East of Scotland voices of the author and his characters.
At 240 pages long with short chapters The Studio Game is an experimental but not unreadable novel that is amusing, intriguing and entertaining. The fourth offering from author Peter Burnett, it is a fine achievement that merits a second reading. - Michael Duncan

Hollywood actor/art lover Steve Martin wrote a stylish insight about the glamour and subterfuge of New York's art world in his neatly illustrated novel An Object of Beauty.
Taking the premise that the work of a deceased artist tends to increase demand, Peter Burnett’s latest novel, The Studio Game questions the fashionable demand for conceptual art. Tracing the brushstrokes of Duchamp and Dali, is it all rather tongue in cheek expressionism or true creative talent?
Set around the mean streets, pubs and galleries of Aberdeen, two young artists Liska and Guy, struggle for recognition and mega bucks. Blending self-deprecation, witty asides and academic debate on the role of the artist, we follow their plight trying to understand who can judge commercial status and market value.
Guy soon begins to realise that “ artists don’t define art or the concepts that justify it. Art lovers bring the art world into being and the artists are always innocent.”
Burnett has created a lovable, slightly eccentric anti-hero surrounded by a weird and wonderful plethora of characters. This bittersweet, dreamlike tale may be fiction but the astutely-researched narrative is set within today’s real art auction market of Warhol, Emin, Hirst and Creed.
Burnett’s previous novels, The Supper Book and The Machine Doctor received high praise - “ hilarious, informative and just a tad crazy ” … “ an exhilarating and anarchic comedy. ”
Likewise, The Studio Game is a cleverly constructed, rollercoaster ride, rich in humour, taking us on an intellectual and emotional journey which also challenges our own notion of “what is art” along the way. - Vivien Devlin

The Supper Book by Peter Burnett

Peter Burnett, The Supper Book, Leamington Books

The Supper Book is an annotated list of everything that one man ate and drank over one year.  The list is glossed, especially when the author realised the incredible natures of the many concoctions he had purchased or been served.
Everything in The Supper Book contributed to the invention of the author.  “You are what you eat” is the most common maxim that describes this process.
In The Supper Book Peter Burnett demonstrates the character and virtues of his foods and collects notices on the history and culture of many of the meals that he found it worthwhile to comment upon.
The Supper Book also details manners of eating and drinking, and a list of the cafes, restaurants, bars and private homes visited.     

"The Supper Book is the title of a new tome by Peter Burnett, which lists everything the Edinburgh-based scribe ate and drank in a year. Why anyone would want to do this is a good question. Against formidable odds, however, Mr. Burnett has produced a book which I suspect I shall be dipping into for a long while, like a buffet one can't resist. This is a man with catholic taste, whose addiction to junk food suggests he is either in need of a nutritional talking-to or a voucher to consult a shrink."   - Alan Taylor 
"The Supper Book manages to hold your attention through wit and wonderful oddness." - Scotland Magazine    

"A celebration and a ringing indictment of contemporary advert-driven consumerism."  -  Scottish Field  

"Refreshingly honest and agenda-free — a rare thing in today’s food wars." - Lesley McDowell

Peter Burnett, Scotland or No, Thirsty Books, 2014.

Back living in Edinburgh, Alan Stewart hasn’t seen his father for six years, other than on Twitter where he is known as Scotland’s biggest conspiracy theorist.
Uncovering an army of false internet profiles, Alan’s father sets him on a crash course in lies and manipulation as these fakes take center-stage in the battle for Scottish independence. Working in social media Alan discovers that this army of fake profiles has more than just friends and likes. These profiles can vote.

Scotland Or No was written before the Referendum, though correctly predicting its outcome, and is steeped in the heady atmosphere of the time.
In a campaign that was praised for its peaceful nature, the Internet, not the street, was where the worst aggression took place, and that's the battleground in this novel too. The central character, Alan Stewart, ekes out a living by creating bogus Facebook and Twitter accounts to "like" his clients' products: virtual people summoned out of nowhere to service a need.
It so happens that Alan's estranged father, Ranald Stewart, has a hefty online presence as well. Known as Scotland's leading conspiracy theorist, he takes extraordinary measures to stay under the radar while taking pot shots at his nemesis, a hillwalking blogger, whom he accuses of attacking and undermining the Nationalist cause under a variety of aliases. Quite how widespread this practice was in the Referendum campaign I have no idea, but Burnett recreates the febrile, accusatory online atmosphere very convincingly.
Virtual people, not unlike the kind that he creates himself, are key to the conspiracy Alan stumbles across, and that sense of unreality creeps off the Internet and into his own life. There are plenty of people who insist that his own father doesn't really exist either, and if we hadn't already witnessed an awkward chance meeting between them on the streets of Edinburgh we might be doubting his existence too.
Burnett is a noir fan, which shows in Scotland Or No's mood of suspicion and unease and his use of Edinburgh locations; but he's not, perhaps, the most sure-footed writer of thrillers. The level of threat never really escalates, not that we're given much reason to care about Alan anyway: the emotional repercussions of his father walking out on him don't advance the plot and so are barely touched upon. Likewise, the representative of the Establishment, who pops up out of nowhere at convenient moments to wave a cigar and spout helpful exposition, is more plot contrivance than character.
There's the germ of a good novel here, but also the sense that Scotland Or No doesn't know quite what sort of a book it wants to be - conspiracy thriller, political satire, parable or an exposé of voting fraud - perhaps by being written too hurriedly. But even that gives it an urgency, a feeling of being on the spot as history was taking place and that distance might have lent it polish but robbed it of immediacy.  -

free topiary occupy fable

Peter Burnett, #freetopiary: An Occupy Fable, Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

Consumerism, passivity, apathy and distraction. The internet is no place to attempt changing anything that matters. A young Scottish drifter, Alan Stewart, struggles to come of age in a world he knows only through the world wide web. But come of age he does, learning something of truth and the price of freedom along the way. Arrested for a cybercrime he did not commit, Alan is shipped to Scotland's e-crime unit in Aberdeen with a young hacktivist known only as Topiary. After an escape worthy of The 39 Steps they set about establishing a Scottish Occupy camp, along with others who feel that social inequalities are rising to historically unprecedented heights.
Introduced to the story of Bradley Manning, Alan is forced to question his long-held political apathy and ask himself what he is prepared to do for the struggle. Another world is possible. Make ready your dreams. Inspired in part by a true story, #freetopiary is not just an insightful commentary on internet privacy and our rights in a world increasingly dependent on technology, but the touching story of a brotherhood and the bonds we develop in times of crisis.

"Given the recent revelations surrounding GCHQ and Prism, a timely work. Over the course of this slender volume we are taken from the land of Sir Walter Scott to Aberdeen, from the realm of invented tradition to a local manifestation of that earthly power of the 21st Century, Big Oil. Can we Scots awaken from our tartanised consensus reality and listen to what people like Topiary have to say? This is the question Burnett seems to be asking. It’s a big subject for a little book. But he pulls it off without ever sounding fatuous or hectoring."
Mike Russell, Northwords Now

Peter Burnett's Film Noir Review
Peter Burnett, #freetopiary: An Occupy Fable, Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.