Get Me Out Of Here, by Henry Sutton

Purchased from the Book Depository

Matt Freeman is one of those despicable characters who are necessary to complete the world of entertaining fiction. Get Me Out Of Here is narrated in the first person, so his total unreliability as a narrator comes with the turf. He is a hopeless consumer snob and prisoner to fashion, which offers plenty of opportunity for satire. On the revenue side, the novel is set in 2008, post crash, and Matt would have us believe his “work” is running his own firm in the City of London — opening the door for yet another stream of acrid observation. And then there is his darker side — back of the book blurbs make comparisons to Bonfire of the Vanities and American Psycho.

All in all, that is not a prescription for my kind of read. But my interest was piqued by a very enthusiastic review from Guy Savage (“insanely entertaining” and “one of my reads of the year”) and Guy knows his noir. And an equally positive assessment from my fellow Shadow Giller judge Kimbofo at Reading Matters (“probably the most disturbing novel I have read all year”) convinced me that it was time for a journey outside my reading comfort zone. Get Me Out Of Here won’t be on my top 10 list at year end but the excursion was well worth the effort.

Sutton introduces Matt the upscale consumer first and that seems an appropriate place to start. Our anti-hero is in a David Clulow optometry shop at Canary Wharf, trying for the third time to get back the £500 he paid for a pair of Lindberg glasses. His excuse is that he does a lot of travelling for his work (Kabul, Baghdad, Pyongyang, he says) and needs a reliable, tough pair and these have now “broken” three times — it is pretty obvious that the “breaking” hasn’t come from the design flaw he says is responsible. The sales assistant (“pretty — darkish, long, straight hair tied back, with a good figure, neatly tucked into a rather demure, patterned blouse and tight black trousers”) is again offering only an exchange and no cash-back option.

As she walked back over to the phone, I continued to search the fiddly, hopelessly fragile display racks for a pair that might do instead. I picked up frames by Oliver Peoples, Alain Mikli, Prada, Tom Ford, Philippe Starck — I hated Philippe Starck, out of principle, anyone who tried that hard to make a statement — Giorgio Armani, and Paul Smith. Oh dear, what’d happened to poor old Paul Smith of late — too successful? Resting on his laurels? Simply relying on past performance? Didn’t I know how that scenario could develop.

Matt’s fascination with upscale fashion (and his inability to actually pay for it) is the “fun” part of this novel. The reader is treated to excursions to the Prada shop on Bond Street where he has bought a “puff” jacket at a half-price sale — and is again frustrated when his attempts to get cash back later are rebuffed. And there is an entertaining short dissertation on the values of John Smedley knitwear (I own a few, so I did appreciate this part). And a visit to Church’s shoe store to scam the “purchase” of a pair of tan brogues. There is plenty more on the fashion front, all great fun, although we do end up feeling sorry for the hapless sales assistants. Matt also makes a number of “dine and dash” visits to trendy London restaurants where Sutton again displays a fine touch for criticizing trendy menus and pompous wine lists.

Then there is Matt Freeman Associates, the independent firm the narrator has set up after spending time as an employee in a more traditional, larger City firm. The author presages this aspect of the book with his epigram at the start: “Great ideology creates great times”, Kim Jong-il. I doubt the deceased North Korean leader is quoted approvingly in many English novels, but he is a beacon of hope for Matt and his business — his “plan” is to serve as an agent bridging North Korea with English capital markets.

Plus there was Kim Jong-il. Or was there? Who knew whether he was alive or dead. Or if he was alive in what sort of state of health. Had he been rendered useless by a stroke, as recent reports had suggested? A pale shadow of his former, extraordinary self, lying semi-comatose, surrounded by weeping flunkies, in some outlandish palatial mansion. What a pity. I’d liked his style. His jumpsuits and buoffant hairdo — would he still have someone to attend to his toilet? How I’d liked his reputation as being something of a ladies’ man — the fact he’d fathered numerous children and was now living, or maybe not, with a former movie star. I’d liked his power and the fact he’d so troubled both the US and China. And how if he went anywhere, which not surprisingly was not often, at least not far — who would have him? — he went by a lengthy, bombproof train. It wasn’t that he’d been concerned about his carbon footprint — though given his nuclear ambitions, one could argue he’d been trying to do his bit to cut carbon emissions — he was scared shitless.

Sutton’s take on empty global capitalism is almost as good as his one on empty contemporary fashion but the book suffered for me in that he does not devote nearly enough space to exploring it, teasing rather than delivering. If I had a wish list for Get Me Out Of Here, it would have been that it had more of the finance and business angle to it.

Which leaves the American Psycho thread, involving a string of failed relationships. They start with the mother of an old school chum, extend through a fiancee who abandoned him, a casual sex trip to Mallorca and Matt’s latest, an affair with 24-year-old Bobbie, more than a decade younger than him, whom we meet watching I’m A Celebrity — Get Me Out Of Here on the telly.

If she hadn’t been so exceptionally pretty I’d have left by now. She was simply gorgeous, even when she was engrossed in some tired reality TV show. She was still wearing her work clothes — a tight dark skirt and thin, baby blue polo neck, with patterned, light pink tights. She went for bright colour coordinations, said it was in this season — and she would have known — but for someone who was so careful about her appearance she was remarkably careless about her clothes. She never hung them up properly, choosing insead to leave them where they fell. The bathroom floor was awash with them, along with dirty, damp towels. I had no idea how she managed to look smart and not remotely crumpled, or skanky.

I found this thread the least satisfying in the book. Sutton downplays the realism of it deliberately, but every time it became the centre of the narrative I found it more distracting than disturbing — Matt is so charmingly empty a character in every other respect that it is hard to treat him seriously as a potential psychopath.

One final observation on another strength of the book is the author’s ability to take the reader on a journey through modern central London. Matt lives in a concrete apartment block next door to the Barbican, an area I know a bit about, and he carries that off well (including the soulless concrete plazas, corridors and a Thresher’s wine store). I’ve already mention the Canary Wharf plaza and Bond Street. Bobbie lives in Battersea Rise, which enables Sutton to explore both that part of South London and aspects of Pimlico and Chelsea across the river. I had my A to Z out throughout my reading and it served me well.

I hope those thoughts supply enough of a taste for those who have not read Get Me Out Of Here to make a judgment. If you like satire — or a kind of off-the-wall noir — you will probably find much to like in the book. And if you want a jaundiced, but entirely plausible, look at contemporary London, there is much to appreciate here. And even if those two aspects don’t have attraction, the novel is different enough to be worth your while.

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19 Responses to “Get Me Out Of Here, by Henry Sutton”

  1. Guy Savage Says:

    Welcome to the dark side…. Sorry this didn’t grab you in quite the same way, but it sounds as though you found some redeeming characteristics about the book.

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy: I certainly did. And I suspect that because I liked parts of it so much it raised the bar for other threads, which probably wasn’t fair to the author.

    • Guy Savage Says:

      Well we all have our weaknesses–reading weaknesses that is. I have a weakness for fictional characters I wouldn’t tolerate in my non-reading life.

  3. Sweet Fanny Adams Says:

    An excellent review, Kevin.

    I read this last year and place it in my top 5 for 2011. I couldn’t put it down though I do confess that I was worried when I found myself agreeing with some of Matt’s views! I enjoyed Sutton’s style of writing so much that I bought his other book ‘Kids’ Stuff’ which is almost as dark as Get Me Out of Here.

    Kids’ Stuff begins when Mark, a working class fella with a wife and young child, gets a message that his ex-wife, with whom he had a daughter, is trying to contact him. Mark’s seemingly ordered and comfortable life is about to unravel and again, Sutton is quite brilliant in describing psychotic people. I found Kids’ Stuff a little patchy and disjointed in places but I enjoyed it all the same, though in my opinion it’s not as good as Get Me Out of Here.

    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Fanny: Thanks for those thoughts on Kids’ Stuff (because I don’t think it is likely I will find time for it). I too found myself agreeing with Matt some times, which was part of the fun of the book. I very much enjoy Sutton’s grumpy take on much of what passes for “posh” in this world — I’m somewhat less impressed with his need to take his plots to dark space. That’s only my tastes, though. And I definitely don’t want to discourage anyone from reading Get Me Out Of Here — indeed, Mrs. KfC has said she wants to pick it up the next time she wants a contemporary novel set in London.

  4. savidgereads Says:

    I need to read this at some point as I like the idea of it being disturbing as Kim said (and her review piqued my interest in it when it went up) I also really like unreliable narration. It would, as you say yourself, be out of my comfort zone, but sometimes I guess its nice to give those books a whirl even if they don’t become your favourites.

    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Simon: I do think you should find the time for this one. I know you spent some time in the London media world and now get to look back on that with an informed eye. My prediction is that you will find Sutton’s take on that very rewarding — if the “disturbing” part of the novel strikes a chord, that will be an added bonus.

  5. kimbofo Says:

    Apologies for delay in response — have been away. But glad you appreciated this novel, Kevin, even if it wasn’t your usual sort of read. The story, or at least the character of Matt, has stayed with me — he’s so pompous and shallow and more funny than he cares to realise. I still think about him whenever I see those seemingly indestructible shell suitcases all the best-heeled travellers seem to sport these days. I wonder if they’ve tested it to the same extreme as Matt! :-)

  6. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Kim: I suspect that Matt the consumer is the part that is going to stick with me as well. I found the shallowness was more to my interest than his macabre side. It was nice to have a book that at least raised multiple issues.

  7. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    I loved this book.In many ways it is reminiscent of “A Confederacy of Dunces” – a wildly self delusional character, self-sabotaging while making up fantastic narratives in his head. It’s a jolly good read!

  8. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I noticed this when Guy reviewed it, and it does sound like one I should read. Particularly given the links to the City and to London. I even wear a pair of Lindbergs…

    It’ll have to go on the backburner though. My backlog is just too great presently. Still, a very nice review Kevin. I have a good feel I think for where it shines and where it is less successful.

    It reminds me slightly on the description of Richard Morgan’s novel Market Forces, though perhaps less savage and much funnier. In fact not much like it at all now I write this, save in an anti-consumerist anti-capitalist critique. Oh well, we take our connections where we find them.

  9. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: Perhaps the best recommendation that I can offer is that Mrs. KfC picked it up on the strength of my review and finished it in two reading sessions. She then immediately started a re-read which she deliberately stretched out over five days. I think it is fair to said that anyone who lives in the world of high finance, as you and Mrs. KfC do, will find much to like in this book.

    Thanks for the mention of Market Forces. You will note that I am currently reading (and enjoying) Capital so a pointer to another “anti-capitalist” novel has some appeal.

  10. Max Cairnduff Says:

    My caution on Market Forces Kevin is that it is still decidedly an SF novel by an out-and-out SF author and it’s not a subtle book (Morgan is not a subtle writer). I don’t wish to put you off it, but it may be worth your browsing in a shop before buying.

    Oddly enough as I was adding this one to an Amazon wishlist Capital popped up as a recommend. I’m not sure I’m that enthusiastic, so I’ll wait to see your review to be persuaded otherwise.

    The slim book I just read on Modernist architecture and socialism might appeal if you’re on an anti-capitalist reading kick. It’s very British, but not alienatingly so and it’s briskly passionate which is not a bad combination.

  11. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I’m waiting for your review of the book on Modernist architecture. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but I’m intrigued by the possibilities of this one — and lord knows you have a lot of modernist concrete examples in Britain.

    Also offside, Mrs. KfC and I finished season three of Spiral (bought on your recommendation) last night. Incredible. And I am delighted that it has been signed up for three more seasons. We will be waiting. In return, I would tout Borgen, a television series from Denmark about the country’s first female prime minister. Two years of 10 episodes each so far and they both are excellent.

  12. Max Cairnduff Says:

    It’s just up yesterday that review.

    Emma and I are watching Betipul at the moment. It’s an Israeli show that was remade in the US as In Treatment. The US version never tempted somehow, but the Israeli version is pretty good. No crime angle though.

    Borgen I have but we haven’t got to yet. We’re still working through The Singing Detective and we have Inspector Montalbano lined up.

    On the Spiral front, the French crime series Braquo is worth looking out for. It’s like a Parisian version of The Shield.

  13. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Guy Savage had mentioned Braquo as well so I just ordered it — and found another Danish series by the Killing crew (Those Who Kill) while I was at it so ordered that one too.

    Mrs. KfC is in Paris right now but we will be returning to Montalbano as soon as she returns — her hiking group is doing Sicily this year and the guide (who also did their Sardinia trip) has promised a full-day tour of Montalbano sites. I love the stories and I love him, but I have to admit the setting is the icing on the cake.

  14. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I have Those who Kill saved on my sky box. I’ve heard it’s not as good as The Killing or Borgen, but that doesn’t mean not worth watching of course (otherwise I wouldn’t have saved it).

  15. Emma Says:

    I just read it (picked from Guy’s review too) and Max left a comment saying you just reviewed it too.

    Your take is interesting, closer to Guy’s than to mine, I’d say.
    As I’m French and not much interested in fashion, I didn’t get the brand thing at all, except that the brands were expensive and posh. I don’t know what a David Clulow shop is or what Lindbergh glasses look like or what a John Smedley knitwear is.

    Like you, I thought it gave a good view of London, also not an easy part for a foreigner but still interesting.

    I felt really uncomfortable in Matt’s head and I had to put the book down to breathe a bit. Perhaps I felt that uncomfortable because I missed the brand fun, I don’t know.

  16. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Emma: I don’t think you actually have to know the brand names, but it does help — you can probably fill in the blanks with French versions. I did like the fun satirization better than I liked Matt, I must admit.

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