Stuart Evans - a fantastic intellectual romp that transcends its swinging setting and succeeds in impressing with each stylish sentence. Comedy-of-ill-manners set in a nouveau riche milieu: a fantastic satirical performance and hyper-referential homage to masters past and present


Image result for Stuart Evans, Meritocrats,
Stuart Evans, Meritocrats, Verbivoracious Press, 2016. / Hutchinson, 1974.



Stuart Evans’s first novel is a comedy-of-ill-manners set in a nouveau riche milieu: a fantastic satirical performance and hyper-referential homage to masters past and present. Paul Keller is the Stephen Dedalus of the piece, the son of Robert and Sylvie, whose internal monologue is spliced into the action, and whose incestuous feelings for his sister lead to an increase in histrionic imagery. Sylvie Keller’s sections comprise of pastiches, including the Penelope chapter of Ulysses, and an amusing riff on Alain Robbe-Grillet. Robert Keller, the paterfamilias, has a more conventional narration, while Eric Foster, “vernissage of the independent cinema”, is the most intriguing experiment: a cinematographic narration, blending snippets from his screenplays, pieces of real-time dialogue, and more theoretical musings, mirroring the approach of his movies. Gavin McNamara is the final voice: a caustic internal monologue from an parodic Irish character, sprinkled with amusing portmanteau words. These narrations are sequenced in different orders over eight parts, mimicking the drunken headiness of the endless parties taking place. The end product is a fantastic intellectual romp that transcends its swinging setting and succeeds in impressing with each stylish sentence.


Outside the noisome compositions of ex-pat John Cale, the phrase “avant-garde” is not heard often in Wales—from Lord Hereford’s Knob to Yr Arwydd, the hills are not alive with daring experimental artists eager to showcase their latest multimedia works. In the stringent anti-avant culture of 1960/70s (and post-, and post-, and post-) Britain, a Welsh novelist who takes up the mantels dropped by Nicholas Mosley and co. was never fated to become a success. His first novel, Meritocrats, is a waspish comedy-of-ill-manners set in a nouveau riche milieu, and is a fantastic satirical performance and hyper-referential homage to masters past and present. Split into five sections, voiced by five members of the milieu, Evans spins various narrative styles and modes to brilliant effect. Paul Keller is the Stephen Dedalus of the piece, the son of Robert and Sylvie, whose internal monologue is spliced into the action, and whose incestuous feelings for his sister lead to an increase in tormented and histrionic imagery. Sylvie Keller’s sections comprise of pastiches, some of which are of Victorian authors (Austen or Trollope?), and later more recognisable takes on the Penelope chapter of Ulysses, and an amusing riff on Alain Robbe-Grillet (who appears twice at one of the parties). Robert Keller, the paterfamilias, has more conventional narration sprinkled with the sexist opinions of the none-too-subtle Australian character—a course millionaire in the Rupert Murdoch mould. Eric Foster, “vernissage of the independent cinema”, is the most intriguing experiment: a cinematographic narration, blending snippets from his screenplays, pieces of real-time dialogue, and more theoretical musings, mirroring the approach of his movies: New Wave French in style, à la Bresson or Godard. Gavin McNamara is the final voice: a caustic internal monologue from an unconvincing Irish character, sprinkled with amusing portmanteau words such as ‘marshgassers’, ‘simperjunket’, and ‘gabledecock’, included self-consciously, so more entertaining than embarrassing. These narrations are sequenced in different orders over eight parts, mimicking the drunken headiness of the endless parties taking place. The end product is a fantastic intellectual romp that transcends its swinging ‘70s setting and succeeds in impressing with each sentence. Stuart Evans also authored the in-print (and so excluded for our purposes) The Caves of Alienation, a documents novel that seems (unread at the time of writing) to have expanded upon the philosophical musings in this work, veering into similar fictional territory as Nicholas Mosley. Four years past, I picked up Houses on the Site, a rather deflating title, part of the Windmill Hill sequence, a quintet about which little has been written—either Evans’ ambition spanning over five novels resulted in unfocused and rather undazzling prose (in evidence in that particular book, and a problem with Mosley’s Catastrophe Practice quintet), or the sequence remains ripe for a revival and several dozen academic papers and festschrifts. If this brilliant debut is any indication, Evans is ripe for rediscovery. He also wrote three thrillers with ‘Death’ in the title with his wife Kay, (work that Robert Keller himself might have produced), published as Hugh Tracy.

Novels:
Death in Disguise (as Hugh Tracy), 1969, Robert Hale Ltd.
Career with Death (as Hugh Tracy), 1970, Robert Hale Ltd.
Meritocrats, 1974, Hutchinson.
Death in Reserve (as Hugh Tracy), 1976, Gollancz.
The Gardens at the Casino, 1976, Hutchinson.
The Caves of Alienation, 1977, Hutchinson.
Centres of Ritual, 1978, Hutchinson.
Occupational Debris, 1979, Hutchinson.
Temporary Hearths, 1982, Hutchinson.
Houses on the Site, 1984, Hutchinson.
Seasonal Tribal Feasts, 1987, Hutchinson.

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