Review #2 – Billy and the Devil by Dean Lilleyman

A Review of Dean Lilleyman’s Billy and the Devil

by Jim Gibson

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Set in and around Chesterfield, Billy and the Devil takes us through the sordid journey that is working class life in the triumphant way that only great novels can do. By this, I mean that the novel treats you as an adult and with respect; it never apologises for its stark portrayals. Some characters can be weak, some are immoral and some can even sometimes fall into stereotypes, yet if you aim at creating a realist novel this is exactly the truth that should be investigated. By doing this however, Lilleyman isn’t enforcing these stereotypes, he isn’t highlighting the weaknesses or immorality of certain groups of people, but he’s presenting his characters on the page and saying ‘like it or not, this is how it is sometimes. I’ve seen it.’ This is a highly admirable quality for a novel today as writers constantly worry about what people will think and what it implies, which is fine for a work of a more surreal or metaphysic nature, but with this piece of pure realism you get presented with a window into the main character’s world, nearly his whole life, and you make what you will of it. It is an emotional journey that does provoke thought though and the main thing that I personally took from the novel is the lack of control one person can have over their life.

The story takes the form of a continuous case of alcoholism. The first chapter is Billy’s Grandad, with his clag-nut ridden arse, hauling himself around all of the pubs that will take him. We later on learn that his father has a taste for the ale and as we see Billy we learn from an early age that this will be the necessary vice for his misadventures also. There’s no denying that during the many tribulations that come up in the novel the reader thinks that Billy is a ‘proper nob’ on occasions. You vehemently hate him at times. But, as with the unexplainable nature of life, you egg him on to change. Even before the truly tender side of him emerges late on in the novel, you still knows it exists. This may partly be due to the earlier interaction and vulnerability shown in his relationship with his ‘Nannan’ in his childhood innocence and blissfulness that you later wish he wouldn’t have had to progress from. But, again, this is life.

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Towards the end of the novel, when the tenderness of Billy does overcome him, you are totally encapsulated and distraught for him. You are overwhelmed by the fact that you knew he didn’t want to be this ‘nob head’ from earlier chapters. You wish that he could have another chance… It all went past so fast. Billy is middle aged. His life has overtaken him and he’s messed it up because he was born. The sincerity and honesty throughout has all led up to make the hardest of readers a wreck.

Although the story can be bleak, there is a strong humour that runs throughout, albeit in the darker sense of the word. My personal favourite was after Billy had gone awol at a works do and wrote ‘fight for your right to party’ over the bar in tomato ketchup, before trying to flush the evidence down the toilet. The delivery is excellent as it is explained by Billy’s boss as Billy is sat in his office being told what has happened. The laughs are nearly as constant as the bleaker aspects, adding a nice leveller to the work as a whole.

The novel’s presentation is quite reminiscent of Bukowski in the way that each chapter could be read as its own individual short story and they vary quite dramatically in their perspective styles, yet each manages to capture the person’s character perfectly, a skill that Lilleyman seems to excel at. Whether it is First, third or even second person the character’s voice is clearly distinguishable. We’d be able to tell Billy has got even a year or so older from the stream of consciousness alone.

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(I’m purposely not telling you the importance of the baby. You’ll have to read to find out)

As a whole, the story seems to develop naturally; Billy doesn’t consciously seem to make any decisions en-route. But, although this is the case, it doesn’t blame circumstance either. The alcoholic father and Granddad are unknown to Billy until he becomes how he is and be it nature or fate, however you see it, Billy is his own person and always would have been. With the open nature of the novel it doesn’t seem fitting for me to blabber on too much about how I saw it; it is there to be read, enjoyed and taken in on a personal level. I know it sounds clichéd but I doubt that two people would ever get the exact same thing from the book as we are also uncontrollably ourselves and we don’t have as much choice as you might think.

Overall, Lilleyman manages to craft a highly entertaining and passive book that plays on the reader’s response to the characters but also manages to mould itself around whoever is reading it. It feels highly personal. It is the real world and this means that nothing around you matters while you read it; the real world is more important than anything else.

 

For more info on Dean Lilleyman go to http://deanlilleyman.com/ and make sure you grab a copy of his BOOK.

He also features in issue 6 of Hand Job Zine which is also available HERE.

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