Sex and sanity


Joe Stretch <em>Vintage, 352pp, £7.99</em>

This nihilistic satire is set in the bars, bathrooms and festering bedrooms of Manchester. Deluded by porn and perverts, the six main characters fumble through as victims of a society saturated by sex. Twentysomething Justin chants his mantra, “Love is the white lie of the west,” as he strides towards revolution and sexual liberation. Rebecca the curious student takes up lap dancing and Colin the librarian fantasises about foetuses.

The alienated protagonists then link up via Justin’s transgressive website, However, as reality begins to fade, their brave new world also disintegrates. By the time shopaholic Carly pleasures herself to death with an electric sex machine, we find ourselves inside a fictional yet uncomfortably familiar dystopia.

In Joe Stretch’s brutal critique of Britain’s clubbing culture, every page gurgles with sardonic, surreal descriptions of sexual acts, from masturbation to the scary practice of “recreational abortion”. Bodily descriptions are nauseating; a purple nipple is compared to an “exotic beak” and a belly-piercing “squirms from within fat like a tasteless umbilical cord”. Sex is entirely dislocated from eroticism; love is unrequited, or non-existent. Vicious, funny and disturbingly honest, Friction is a fine debut from an assured new writer.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Everybody out!