Faber & Faber
Stanley Donwood is an artist – known in pop-culture terms for his work with Radiohead, creating their album covers and posters across the last 20 years. This book takes pieces he first wrote 20 years ago and places them all in a line (where previously they’d been distributed by the author, ‘zine-style in pamphlets, to friends).
Humor is an unsettling book. It’s also hilarious – it’s possibly not mean to be funny (indeed an interview with the author has him warning that he doesn’t find it funny at all). Humor is a set of stories, thoughts, dream-recounts and prose-poems that deal with a time in Donwood’s life when he was barely able to separate the dream-life from waking-life, when he was frightened to go to sleep where, clearly, he was diarising semi-lucid moments where he was sure he was going mad.
It’s filled with Dostoevsky-ian shades, with Kafka-esque dread. It helped, for me, that I read this almost exactly in line with watching Richard Ayoade’s The Double; that helped me make some sense of it.
But these pieces are fantastic – and they really are (frequently) funny. There’s a brief section of longer works, most of the book consists of 1-2 page pieces. But in the half-dozen longer “short stories”, very much story-like, we see Donwood’s gift for combining the grit of Irvine Welsh, the hedonism-meets-ennui of Bukowski and that direct-but-somehow-detached observational astuteness of Raymond Carver. All in the same story in
fact. A couple of the longer pieces are among the best short stories I’ve ever read.
And in the pages of nightmares-via-daydreams we have the foibles, folly and fears of a human being laid bare. We have the horrors of a life that seemingly exists to be documented – as if a medical experiment. And we, obviously and clearly, have the inspiration (seeds, at least) for some of the work that went so well with Radiohead – his own words clearly so tapped into the existential dread that is among their best-known (and loved and loathed) lyrical themes.
Humor is one of my favourite books of this year and one you can immediately start re-reading, one I plan to revisit. Often.