Literary Review: Howard Male - Etc Etc Amen
Paperback Cover - Etc Etc Amen

Howard Male

Etc Etc Amen

Published by Clock House Books, 2012

ISBN-10: 1908318880
ISBN-13: 978-1908318886

Paperback, pages n/a
Dim: n/a

Also available as a Kindle e-book

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Etc Etc Amen

Howard Male is a music and arts critic for The Independent on Sunday, The Arts Desk, Songlines and The Word. Etc Etc Amen - or EEA, for short - is his first novel.

A remarkable piece of writing, especially so for a first effort at a novel, Etc Etc Amen takes as its storyline the career of a pop star, Zachary Bekele - interestingly and remarkably in itself, of Ethiopian descent - and the 'anti-religion' that he has conceived and that, since his demise, has grown into a cult that turns out to be as fearsome as any. Male presents the story essentially in three alternating threads, the story of a female journalist, August, who in 2007 is awaiting an interview with the cult's - KUUism, as it's known - leader, or rather, the Leader Who Is Not A Leader, in Marrakech, in the middle of disturbing events surrounding the cult; 'Extracts from The KUU Hypothesis by Zachary Bekele;' and 'Extracts from The Life and Death of Zachary B by Paul Coleridge,' a biographical memoir by a music journalist set, for the most part, in the 1970s and 80s.

KUUism, although presented as an 'anti religion' or 'non-religion,' written not in stone but while stoned - very, very stoned, one might add - becomes quite clearly established even in the 'Extracts from The KUU Hypothesis by Zachary Bekele' as a quasi religion of sorts, a kind of belief system, even if not based on compulsion (thou shalt/shalt not) but rather, option (you may/can). The KUU is established as a supernatural entity. And the followers of KUUism have turned it into a cult since its founder's death. Somehow, at first one cannot help being reminded by KUUism of Vonnegut's Church Of God The Utterly Indifferent, except it quickly becomes clear that, unlike the latter, the former takes itself very seriously, in fact, rather too seriously, especially for something conceived while stoned. Do not be misled into taking this 'non-religion' and its various aspects too seriously. It is entertaining, definitely, comic even, in parts, and a very clever device for the purposes of this novel and central to it, certainly. But no more. Indeed, the extracts from KUUism's 'holy scripture' are very funny at times - as ridiculous as anything the Monty Python team could have dreamt up in their prime. And just as full of inconsistencies and at least bordering on the surreal.

Etc Etc Amen pulls off its ambitiousness remarkably well. It slowly builds up an increasingly irresistible suspense and compulsion. Male combines a ripping good yarn with good story telling, often astute observation - in particular in respect of the music press - that takes in a good dose of satire, and excellent plotting. A bit of a mix of 'genres' if you like, Etc Etc Amen is essentially a thriller that takes in elements of comedy and even satire, as well as fictional biography. The attention to detail, especially period detail, is outstanding and a joy in itself. The literary ambitions are well met, even breath-taking, nay enviable, for a debut. The ending holds a few breath-taking surprises that are chilling.

If KUUism was written while stoned, Etc Etc Amen certainly was not. Indeed, it proves that it is still possible to write contemporary literature that is still readable. Something that has alas become all too rare.

Above all, Howard Male's Etc Etc Amen is a fascinating, compelling good read and highly enjoyable. Once you get into it, you won't want to put this book down till you reach the end, and then it will stay with you for a very long time. You will want to read Etc Etc Amen again, without a doubt.

© 2012 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

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