The Inflatable Volunteer by Steve Aylett

I’ve been reading Steve Aylett’s The Inflatable Volunteer. It’s the sort of reading I enjoy in spite of the story. It’s mad and incoherent. It’s a medley of surreal imagery and wild metaphors and ideas left free to roam without the boundaries of plot or coherent characterisation. Even by Aylett’s standards it’s a work of madness, and all the weirdest books I’ve ever read have been by him.

Yet there’s something brilliant about it. I think it’s the imagery. Aylett scatters unusual metaphors and incredible one-sentence images throughout his prose. Together they add up to a jumble, but individually they are shining gems, and I treasure every one.

What can I learn from this as an author? Well, I can see right away that I shouldn’t try to write like this. The world of books can only cope with a small number of Steve Ayletts. Probably just the one, in fact. And I like a coherent story, which he often chooses not to provide.

But that prose, it shows just what an image can do. It shows how captivating a sentence can become not by weighing itself down with verbosity but by containing a single really startling idea. And it shows how much value there is in breaking free of the tired old metaphors.

If you haven’t tried Aylett’s work then I really recommend that you give it a go. You may love it like I do. You may hate it. But I can safely say that it is like nothing else you’ve read.