Mutant pulp

69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess

Stewart Home <em>Canongate, 182pp, £9.99</em>

ISBN 18419518

Over the past ten years, Stewart Home has produced a series of sperm'n'blood classics that have challenged everything the serious novel is supposed to be about. Mixing hard-core sex, anarcho-sadism, street punk and cultural and political analysis, Home has delivered these speeding texts in a repetitive style lifted from the pages of 1970s pulp kings such as Richard Allen and Mick Norman. By choosing this method, and then reinventing it, Home has drawn on his own rich cultural heritage and avoided the limitations set by the literary thought police.

This Seventies phenomenon, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary teenagers actually read underground classics such as Boot Boys and Angels from Hell for pleasure, has been dismissed by some commentators only vaguely aware, at second hand, of its existence, any reference a form of insult in the face of "high" literature. It is this snobbery and limited knowledge of life outside the campus that Home attacks in his novels, because while the eggheads were enjoying The Age of Reason, the hooligan element was busy studying more vital, aggravated works by Allen and Norman. Dumbing down is a concept invented by our controllers, and Home's clever use of a mutant-pulp style rips into this, his intelligence subverting any notions of high or low culture.

69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess marks a change not so much in Home's mission to destroy serious culture, but in his choice of locations and the subjects of his cultural critiques. Previously operating in the same urban landscapes as Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, Home's skinhead and punk heroes have typically pounded the streets of Soho and the East End, their cravings for vaginal/oral/anal sex broken up by heavy chunks of political theory and in-depth criticism of great works of art from the likes of The Oppressed and Last Resort. And it's all done in the best possible taste, with plenty of righteous aggro and skinhead fashion tips. Home is one of the few authors who can make you laugh out loud.

69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess has little real storyline. Home is unimpressed by the linear structure of most contemporary novels or the notion of individual character development. Instead, the narration spins off into different tones, voices and finally identities. The tone and pace are set within the first six pages. Anna Noon meets a stranger, Alan, in a pub, accepts a drink, goes back to his flat, is tied to his bed and blindfolded, then has sex with him and another mystery man - who Alan claims is his ventriloquist's dummy, Dudley. Impressed by the contents of Alan's inherited home, which is packed solid with thousands of books, Anna becomes more and more interested in this articulate older man - and also in Dudley, who soon appears in a series of erotic dreams. Anna develops a fetish for the musty old books, every one of which Alan intends to read and then sell, and she listens intently to his outspoken views on a wide range of authors and figures in publishing.

Alan, however, is obsessed by one book in particular - 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess, by K L Callan, which claims that the death of Princess Diana was faked and that she was in fact strangled at Balmoral by an unknown assailant. The body was then handed to Callan by the security services for disposal, but instead he decided to take it on a tour of 69 ancient monuments in an attempt to stimulate tourism. Suggestions of necrophilia are dismissed.

To test the possibility that Callan is telling the truth, Alan straps Dudley to his back and weighs him down with bricks, and then sets off to visit the pagan sites himself. Anna goes with him, and there are more sex sessions in a selection of stone circles. The characters finally spiral out of control and off into madness. Choosing Princess Diana, and then linking her with pagan sites, recalls the televised coverage of her funeral: the formal Christian ceremony in Westminster Abbey; the long, slow drive out from the wealth and power of central London, and its inner sanctuaries, to the suburbs where the people live, and on towards the M25 and the satellite towns; thousands of bunches of flowers thrown at the hearse from flyovers and embankments; the emerging countryside and the speeding up of the car; two worlds shot from the air like something out of Chopper Coppers; the elite in their period houses versus the pagans in their run-down semis and new-model country housing estates - a Britain turned upside down.

Stewart Home is one of our most important and interesting novelists. His work has been termed "avant-garde", but it is much more ambitious than that, as honest as it is unique. This novel will confuse and amuse and leave you wondering what it was all about, and then it will draw you back to the beginning to try to find out. The more twisted and unreal his writing, the more confusing and contradictory his opinions, the more in touch with reality Home seems to become.

John King's most recent novel is White Trash (Vintage, £6.99)

This article first appeared in the 01 April 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Cutting Tony down to size