In ‘Walthamstow Central’, author Ellis Sharp pushes the boundaries of what readers have come to expect from literature. Part other-worldly police procedural, part science fiction thriller, part political diatribe, with these components alone the novel would be fascinating. But more interesting is the engagement with the artifice of the text. The lines between author and authored, between reality and fiction, between character and history and time are all blurred, and this technique pervades every element of the novel.
Sharp’s narrative technique is underpinned by a certain sense of weariness, both with life and with fiction, and this tiredness is shared by his characters. In a telling early scene, PC Daisy Spenser converses with PC Andy Scurr in his home. The narrator asserts that “the dialogue was as banal as the interior of the kitchen in Scurr’s flat”; minutes later, Daisy makes her excuses to leave:
“Your speech has a cold, narcotic quality. It’s dead.” […] “The sooner we stop this dialogue the better.” (All quotes p.39-40)
These lines are issued and acknowledged without comment, accepted as part of the world in which the characters operate – or, more precisely, the narrative. Indeed, immediately after her departure Daisy reflects momentarily on Scurr, before realising that her mind is open, that her interior monologue is exposed for all to see. She draws a mental curtain before her taxi driver reads her thoughts. It’s perhaps too late, as the reader has already parsed them.
Even a simple exchange such as this is telling. There’s a critical weariness with the mundane triviality of human social interaction, the cold and passionless sexual endeavours of men like Scurr. Observations about the banality of this dialogue, of the emptiness of the setting, not only characterise the voices and faces of ‘Walthamstow Central’, but also critique the lack of ambition and imagination in fiction that does not seek to step beyond this. There are other tidbits to support this thesis (it is quite evident when reading the novel, but for the purposes of this review I must cite), including something Time Penetration Team agent Strobey reads on the train: