‘Moments are crashing disconnected, one into the next, into the next, into the next, into the’
Bad Ideas/ Chemicals is shortlisted for the Betty Trask prize and the Authors Award Slate for 2018, when you read it you understand why.
The author Lloyd Markham (picture inserted below), originally from Johannesburg South Africa, has lived in Wales since he was thirteen. He is a lover of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and when you read Bad Ideas/Chemicals, be prepared for some nasty roaches.
Bad teens. Bad ideas. Bad chemicals. The title is self-explanatory and what you see is what you get, if you’re a lover of small-town teens surrounded by drugs, bad decisions, dark humor and a Stand by Me and A Clockwork Orange vibe then this is definitely for you. Lloyd Markham’s astounding novella shows the lives of Cassie, Billy, Fox, Louie, and Alice who are all crammed into a small town called Gorgree. A town on the border of England and Wales, infested with poisonous roaches and the infamous drug GOTE.
The town is mocked continuously throughout with the phrase ‘I’m not from around here’ and the cluster of gossip of why the town is a neglected, unfinished project.
The novella takes place over one single night, one last time to drink, take GOTE and have awful, terrible ideas.
Bad Ideas\Chemicals was a fantastic read because it was unique and, extremely weird. It defies any kind of categorization yet lies somewhere within literary fiction, and I feel that placing it in a genre wouldn’t do it justice. The book begins with Cassandra Fish who wears an orange spacesuit in the hopes that her parents from another planet will take her home and away from this ‘dirty world’. Her character is simple yet complex, her language and thoughts presented in an abundance of confusion at the ‘other humans’ around her. She is detached and the observer to the chaos of her friends, yet constantly throughout, she believes she is an alien and soon enough you begin to believe her.
The short chapters and different perspectives were one of the things I enjoyed most. It was easy to understand and each chapter has a distinctive tone which kept me hooked. Each character had a different problem and a different story; Billy, a struggling musician with a foreign father reveals his past of being bullied and abused because of his father’s ethnicity. Fox, an orphan thrown in and out of the care system who is desperate for human connection. Louie, struggling to run his alcoholic father’s shop and to keep himself from ending it all. Alice, addicted to GOTE and living with her bigoted grandmother, showing that they are all human and all struggling to survive. These characters allow the author to address topics such as drink and drug addiction, sex, the care system, mental illness, and death, in the eyes of a teenager. By blurring fantasy and reality, Bad Ideas\Chemicals had a strange sense of escapism for not only the characters but the reader also. Markham shows an understanding for the youth of today that radiates throughout the novel, which is why I would recommend it and why I believe it fits into Parthian’s collection so well.
After bad nightclubs, bad conversation and bad memories, The Orphan Three venture to an abandoned castle where Billy and Fox take the renowned GOTE and Cassandra fades into her memories. This is when the eccentricity of Bad Ideas\Chemicals truly hit home for me when finding out the source of the drug. With my face contorted in disgust, I realized how much I loved this book because of how evocative it was and also, the hope that this will become a cult classic. The novella consisted of moments that are fleeting and fragmented, crashing into the next which means that my questions were not always answered but still felt justified. Bad Ideas\ Chemicals is an astounding outlook of small-town life, in the eyes of troubled teens in a way that was wonderfully weird, unsettling and genius.
Reviewed by: Molly Holborn