Alistair Fruish’s novel, The Sentence, written while the author was writer-in-residence at Leicester Prison, will one day be considered a seminal piece of underground/working class fiction. A continuous sentence, unpunctuated and comprised entirely of one-syllable words, the novel depicts a man undergoing a prison sentence in a near future, in which prisoners are injected with a serum which slows down time.
Over the past year, the playwright Daisy Campbell has been holding four hour long readings of the novel around the country, culminating in an event at the British Library, which was recorded, and is to be played in its entirety on Resonance FM on Bank Holiday Monday – May 7th, at 6pm.
Alan Moore has described The Sentence as “an intravenous rush of monosyllables that runs according to the clock of an extremely Long Now… 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, the 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.”
Carl Cattermole of prisonism.co.uk attended the event, saying: “Turn off your smartphone validation trickle and devote four hours to this. I’ve had an ASBO, I’ve spent a lot of time in jail, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard about prison and UK general insanity. It’s an unpublished, forty six thousand word, one hundred and fifteen page long single sentence by a dyslexic guy from Northampton. No punctuation… no pause… only monosyllabic words.
I went to a reading of it and I almost cried with love, hate and ‘fuck… someone really gets it’. Prison is a club – I can recognise an ex-inmate from their grey eyes and slackness of smile. AF’s piece is hard therapy for a problem so enormous that us lot drown trying to comprehend our own complexes. We get bewildered, fight, reoffend and go back for another helping of the thing we least need – PRISON. Unbreak my heart, undestroy my head, dont smash each 1000th of me into another 1000 pieces I tell myself and the judge with that passive aggressive little life ruining hammer.
Alistair Fruish chips away in this unconscious style, all the slang in Britain, bodged together, sci-fi elements where middle class people now rent out their spare rooms for ‘justice pods’, super empathic lucidity mixed with surreal poetry. You know how ice sculptors turn a huge frozen block into something beautiful with a blowtorch and a chainsaw, this book feels like that. AF chisels away at a mega complex situation and it’s a masterpiece by the time you finally hit the sole full stop.
The format is unusual and it does take time for you to let go and slip into this transcendental meditation piece about crap Britannia. I flinched for my phone for the first half-hour like a 40-a-day smoker on a cross-Atlantic flight. As I already said… leave your whatsappopiate cannula turned off and lie in the dark or something: experiences like this are genuinely counter-i-Cultural and should be leapt upon.”
You can hear a preview of the recording here
Alistair Fruish is an English filmmaker, writer and novelist, born in Northampton. His novels include Kiss My Asbo and The Sentence. From 2001 he has worked in over 40 prisons as a writer-in-residence, and was also one of four editors of Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem.
Featured image by Archives New Zealand from New Zealand – Waikeria Prison for WW1 objectors, c.1923, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51248340