Martin Millar

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Milk, Sulphate and Alby StarvationMilk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation was Martin Millar’s first published novel. In the US, it appears that we are getting Millar’s books in something like a reverse order, starting with the brilliant The Good Fairies of New York, then the equally enjoyable Lonely Werewolf Girl and Suzy, Led Zeppelin & Me. After these three wonderful books, Millar’s US publisher, Softskull Press, brought us the sordid tale of Alby Starvation.

It’s been worth the wait, because Millar’s trademark focus on the poor, the dreamers and the slightly unhinged is evident in his first novel. Small-time speed dealer Alby Starvation has unwittingly become something of a minor celebrity because he’s given up milk and found this has (somewhat) improved his health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, the milk marketing board is not pleased. They blame the publicity surrounding Alby’s “cure” for depressing the sales of milk, and given that profits must be maintained, they hire a hitwoman to assassinate him. (This was written at the height of “Greed is Good” conservatism in the 1980s, when government agencies hiring thugs to do away with the inconvenient poor didn’t seem like much of a stretch.)

Alby is far from a saint or a anyone’s idea of a hero, but he does have a circle of friends and acquaintances in Brixton (at the time the last refuge for the young, wanna-be-gifted and broke in London) who depend on him for one thing or another — mostly a quick fix — but also for a more basic human need, companionship.  This motley cast — drug addicts, dreamers, depressed shop managers, more-successful drug dealers, and a treasure-hunting professor — provide much of the charm and amusement of the novel with their dogged pursuit of various crazy dreams and schemes. The Good Fairies of New YorkAnyone who enjoyed Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (the book, not the movie) will enjoy the obsessive, slightly maladjusted personalities that populate Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation. Fans of The Good Fairies of New York will recognize Millar’s habit of showing us each character’s cherished plan or their tentative steps at living life on their own terms, and then gradually bringing each closer together until their individual paths either interlock in something approaching harmony or knock somebody else’s dream completely out of orbit.

Even though this is an early novel and some scenes and plotlines are a little raw, Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation still contains everything I love about Martin Millar, his warmth, his clear-eyed view of the basic decency of most people, his love of the dreamers who dare to look to improve their lot in life, and his ability to laugh at the insanity of our world.

Links

Martin Millar’s blog.

Martin Millar’s latest book is Curse of the Werewolf Girl.

I helped interview Martin Millar over at jennIRL.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Milk, Sulphate & Alby Starvation from the publisher.


You’ve got to admire Martin Millar‘s creative powers. He can spin a tall tale with the best of them, and leave you hiccuping with laughter and smiling ruefully in recognition. Millar is the creative genius who brought us the irreverent and hilarious Good Fairies of New York. His second book to be publishing in the US, Lonely Werewolf Girl is about a confused young werewolf overwhelmed by the pressures of life, who gets taken under the wings of two well-meaning, but very naive students. One is an obsessive record collector, the other a romantic, new age Goth. Both are blissfully unaware that their exotic new friend is under sentence of death from her werewolf family, and that the werewolf world is just about to be torn apart by civil war.

As usual, Millar’s focus is on the outsiders, the uncool, and the clueless. His werewolves have flaws, vices and addictions, and they’re all the more human because of them. On the one hand, Lonely Werewolf Girl concerns a feud between two brothers, the heirs to the Thane of the werewolves. On the other, it’s a book about family, about fractured, flawed people trying to find their place in the world and most often finding that the obstacles they must overcome are the expectations, theirs and others’, of what they should do or be. Happily, Millar is well aware that laughter is the best medicine, and he ensures that his books are above all fast, funny romps populated by vivid characters.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is just as offbeat and wonderful as Good Fairies, and displays a sympathy and understanding for outsiders, the lost and the lonely that reminds us that seriousness and sobriety are often the enemies of great writing. Fans of Terry Pratchett take note, the heir is at hand.

An excerpt from this review appeared in the Book Sense Spring – Summer 2008 Reading Group Picks list.