The Sentence by Alistair Fruish – an essential, innovative and important piece of modern literature

This website is dedicated to ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’, ‘2023’, ‘Burn The Shard’, ‘The 400’ and ‘The 99’. However, today, I am defying convention to write about a rule breaker…

Why?

Because you NEED to hear about him…

But… there is a link…

The one and only, Daisy Campbell…


Sunday 25.03.18 | The British Library | London | UK | 2:00pm


Intro

During my journeys across social media, something popped up that caught my attention. It was a book. Not just any book. It looked innovative. And I love innovation.

It was described by The British Library as:

The Sentence is made up of just one sentence of 46,000 one-syllable words. It’s experimental but also a moving, beautiful and mind altering experience; a grime Under Milk Wood for the 21st century.’

As I dug deeper, it became apparent that the book was not for sale at present. In fact, it was not published. In 2018, there was actually something at the end of my keyboard that I could not purchase with one click. This was old fashioned, almost annoying. Was I going to have to actually wait for something? Do I really have time for that? Surely the author must realise that a million other brands, books, films and fidget spinners are vying for my attention at the same time. But this would all become apt and relevant…

So, ignoring all the other marketing and messaging in my streams, I continued to dig…

Turns out that Alan Moore is a fan of the work. As is John Higgs. So too is Robin Ince.

Then, I see it, to get a copy of the book, I can attend a reading. There is one at the British Library. Perfect!

Wait a minute… ‘The event is hosted by Daisy Campbell.’

Okay! Well I don’t need anymore convincing. Here is a book that appears to be written in such a unique way that it demands to be read. Furthermore, it is not easy to locate (we still crave the things that intrigue us and are not easy to obtain). And finally, it has endorsements from some of the finest minds of our time.

Tickets bought.


As a collective of ‘The 400’ gather at the entrance to the venue, we expect a unique afternoon. There is a combination of intrigue, excitement, anticipation… and a tinge of concern. The reading is reportedly four hours long – this could be quite an intense experience…

Having toured the UK, and mainly in the recently revitalised Arts Labs, this was set to be the last ever public reading of the work.

We file into the venue and I am searched by security. Ha! I never expected to be frisked and bag checked at this kind of institution. Luckily, the process is not too invasive and my bag with fluids and solids stays with me. But this was not to be a narcotic-free afternoon after all…

The room is a typical theatre set-up, small stage with rows of ascending seats probably totalling a capacity around 200. It is getting busy too. Word has spread.

Kate Alderton is part of a crew issuing copies of the book to those that wish to read along. The books can then either be handed back in at the end or purchased for a donation.

We grab our seats. The stage has six chairs. One is turned to indicate that it is not available to be sat in.

Daisy and five readers take to the stage. Our host takes to the microphone to introduce us to proceedings. Well…

This was going to be memorable. There would not be any breaks during the four hour reading. How could there be? The text is one long sentence. It does not contain any breaks. The five readers will read individually and hand over to each other in sequence without any breaks. For one hour only, the sixth chair will be turned and members of the audience will be able to take the stage to ‘have a go’ as well. If you need the toilet or a cigarette break, then you can. But you will not escape the total immersion. Should you depart the room, one of the appointed ‘follow readers’ will exit with you and continue to read the book to you as you relieve yourself or bun a toke.

And so, ‘The Sentence’ commenced…


Initially, I struggled. Every rule of literature that I have been conditioned to was getting challenged. How on earth was I going to be able to follow this for such a long duration with no escape?

I decided to go all in. No looking at my phone, no looking at how many pages the book has, no looking at the time. Concentrate – intensely! If possible, not even a toilet break. Lets do this!

Twenty pages in and the bombardment is taking effect. Aspects of the narrative are connecting but at times my mind still wanders. The narrator is a prisoner, he has just been subjected to a new drug that slows down time…

One thing that captures me as we listen and read is how the readers are keeping the flow. They are using ‘vocal mixing’. Much like a DJ, as one reader is speaking, another will join in, coming in assertive and strong to continue the narrative. As both readers are ‘in the mix’ the former reader starts to ‘fade out’ and ‘channel two’ then dominates the speaker space. Every couple of pages, this baton passing continues in a reading relay fashion. It works brilliantly well!

Alistair Fruish is a writer-in-residence at HMP Leicester and has worked in a host of prisons for around seventeen years. And it shows. The portrayal of the characters and their stories is vivid, real and incredibly detailed. The language and slang used are reflective of the universe we are living in. As we delve between the syllables, he addresses so many complex topics covering themes such as education, genetics, family, environment, habit, intelligence and more. The difficulties around the system are evident and are explored from many angles. The insight given is truly invaluable.

The text is monosyllabic! How on earth did Fruish come up with this idea? The thing is, it is not experimental for the sake of it. The chosen technique is relevant to the story and forms it. ‘The Sentence’ could not have been written in any other manner. The use of monosyllables is itself a comment, several comments in fact – all are fitting and serve to create another layer to this novel novel.

As I look up from my page to view the stage, I soon realise that doing so results in me losing my place in the text. Trying to get back on track is a challenge whenever this is done. Though I have discovered a way to ‘anchor’ through the writing style (clue: a joining term), it is not perfect and still requires a lot of focus.

When you hear that this text is based in prison, you may expect it to be dark and moody. And it is, in many places. But is is also so much more. There are moments of beautiful emotion and elements of humour that tickle both the readers and the audience alike. The work is partly satirical but is also social commentary and deeply psychological. There are depths to this work that appear to contradict what may be possible in a monosyllabic work…

[[[[[[[[[[[ Insert Digression ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

When I was at school and studying English, there was one guy who kept topping the class. That was not unusual. But what was odd was to see how our teachers responded to this kid. They appeared to idolise him! He always got straight ‘A’s’ in all his exams and coursework for this subject.

It got to a point where we were all wondering quite how he manged it.

Then, one day, our teacher did something that I never saw before or since. He took the ‘perfect’ exam paper from the student, photocopied it and handed it to every other student in the class.

As I received it, I started reading. As I read on, I was confused. I waited but could not see it. There was no elegant prose. The vocabulary used was not extravagant. If anything, it all seemed normal. How was this ‘A grade’ standard?

Then our teacher explained. The simplicity, the flow. Those were the great aspects of the work. The clarity was immaculate. The text was accessible to all who read it.

More had been said with less.

[[[[[[[[[[[ End Digression ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

What feels like an hour has passed. Daisy mentioned in her introduction that many audiences have found that time seems to shift during the readings. As the afternoon extends, I see what they mean. Without outward distraction, immersed in a sea of monosyllables, time stretches and morphs. I’m really not sure if two or three hours have passed. And it really does not matter. The text has gripped me and I am hanging on every word. Though it could not have been intended at the time of writing, the parallel of the protagonist having their timeline morphed is now having a similar effect in real-time as we read the text.

Chair six is turned. To my surprise, a constant flow of volunteers take the stage to partake. The skill levels vary, as can be expected. The bravery of these readers is to be admired. To take to the stage, to take on a text that you have never seen, to read in a structure that is alien to you. Hats off! One gentleman stood out… Whoever this guy was (Al No – thanks Andy Gell), he changed the game. Not only did he read ‘The Sentence’ effortlessly, he did it at light speed and for quite some time too. It was an amazing moment to see!

A powerful word concludes the text. The full stop has arrived. ‘The Sentence’ is complete.

Applause starts, applause continues, applause lasts…

Alistair Fruish joins the readers and Daisy on stage…

The applause continues, cheers echo around the room, a standing ovation spreads, applause continues, applause lasts…

This was a truly special moment. It was a privilege to be in attendance.


We are invited to join the team in the pub afterwards in an attempt to unravel what we had just experienced.

The feedback was unanimous and overwhelming…

The reading was amazing. All the readers did an incredible job!

‘The Sentence’ is a fantastic body of work.

The book needs to be published.

The possibilities for what can be done with this fine text are extensive.

In a world of supermarkets full of cookbooks and celebrity autobiographies, it is clear that this counter-cultural phenomenon is a bold, innovative and important piece of literature. On so many levels this book needs to now reach a wider audience. It challenges, it informs, it inspires, it is thought-provoking, it is innovative, it is unique.

For me, as I ‘experienced’ ‘The Sentence’ I kept thinking that it was something somewhere between Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Trainspotting’ – yet it is something that is totally of itself.

If you are a publisher, contact Alistair below or myself here. I have a spare copy of the book that I will happily send you. This publication is a chance to timestamp a cultural landmark. Books like this only come along once in a generation. When performed in Liverpool, the entire audience burst into tears when it concluded. How many books are you aware of that are that emotive and powerful for an entire group?


Further listening, reading and details

Listen to a preview of ‘The Sentence’ with Alistair Fruish and Daisy Campbell on Resonance FM:

A reading of two sections from the forthcoming novel ‘The Sentence’ by the author Alistair Fruish:

Praise for ‘The Sentence’ from John Higgs:

“Alistair Fruish’s monosyllabic vision is a trance-inducing ticket to an all too plausible near-future dystopia. It is a bleak, grinding, addictive joy that will restore your faith in writing. Absorbing, inspired and unlike anything you’ve ever read, The Sentence is a fully-formed celebration of the power contained in even the simplest of words.”

Praise for ‘The Sentence’ from Alan Moore:

“An intravenous rush of monosyllables that runs according to the clock of an extremely Long Now, Ali Fruish’s The Sentence is a breathless and head-first synaptic plunge into austere and yet excitingly fresh territory, effortlessly blending informed social protest, literary experiment and existential science fiction/horror from its first chivvying word to its single and memorable full stop. Compassionate, ingenious and more than modern, this book casts a new and startling light on the idea of doing time. Experience it in a single sitting like its guinea-pig narrator, as a not-so-short sharp shock, and it will stay with you forever like a penitentiary tattoo. A bold, bar-rattling gem.”

Responses to ‘The Sentence’ group reading in Glasgow:

Follow Alistair Fruish at his website: http://fruishon.co.uk/.

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