Set in the British East Midlands, the small town of Oatvale is blessed with miles of countryside, a long drive from anywhere of interest, and a smattering of no less than seven pubs, some more disreputable than others. Almost a zoo of local “characters”, the only kind of normal occupying the town is “a little bit odd”, and someone almost average can hardly escape at least a story of something extraordinary. Such is the fate of one Rob Thomas, who’s bad luck is flipped almost as marvelously as how he once caused a trouble-maker to somersault over in a single punch.
Somersault? Shouldn’t that be a flip?
As the story of his Herculean feat of triumph spreads around town, in no small part due to the two local pub chatterboxes, Rob could get used to the reputation (impressing his son, less so his wife), if it weren’t for fate’s counter-swing as the wronged are out to end the local legend, messily. Get ready for some dodgy banter in Daley James Francis’s new book, Somerflip: Based on a True Story… Witnessed by Drunks.
The book is British through-and-through, from the shaggy-dog, boys-will-be-boys, “lad culture” feel to the proud, locally-sourced details of the cast, community, and comedy. This is what Francis has become known for in his other books - Walking Up A Slide, and to a lesser extent, THIS BOOK BELONGS TO – and comes back in full force here with enough slang and slagging off to make anyone not fluent enough in the right sort of English English to find watching Johnny Vegas on stage a wind-down. The cover has even a real pub look, complete with the old-school blackboard for drinks, bets, and (sadly omitted) lewd remarks, as well as a “Best Quality” assertion familiar to any pub connoisseur.
The book has character, real character, and feels completely genuine for how serious it absolutely tries not to be for the most part. Suffice to say, the characters and dialogue are a riot in this book, with parts that had me absolutely roaring with laughter despite how far the black comedy can go. Perhaps its spot-on representation of the classic British friendly-irreverency is how it manages to poke fun at the same time as celebrating everything about its subject. The cast varies from nice, yet rough-around-the-edges, to vulgar Jason Statham rejects, and all the muppets that carry on the song and dance in-between. While nobody’s perfect, nobody’s too rotten, making for an endearing read, even without Rob’s wonderfully warm family interactions evening out the raucous tone of much of the rest of the book.
Despite its casual demeanor, the book is very well and altogether professionally put together, complete with its charming cover. Originally a play, Francis has translated the tale of the highs and lows of machismo in British culture perfectly to the novel format. There’s no way to get around the fact that those without much familiarity with British culture (outside of BBC productions) will likely, at best, miss out on a lot of the quirks and gems buried in the book, while others will find the dialogue impenetrable, but if you’re not afraid to face up to it, though, there’s enough of a carry-on to make you wish Kenneth Williams were available for an “Ooh, Matron!”