Book Review: 17:01:19
AN OTLEY RUN
by Joe Williams
Our reviewer is charmed and intoxicated by Joe Williams' verse novella: An Otley Run.
*Please note this review contains language which some readers may find offensive
In his forward, Joe Williams explains what the Otley Run is, a pub crawl along the Otley Road in Leeds that takes in (give or take) 14 pubs.
An Otley Run is a charming read – and charming is still the word that comes to mind, despite the inclusion of at least one wanker and a couple of cunts. Split into three acts, each scene is a pub; we follow the ups and crashing downs of two groups as they sink their pints, break for pizza and slowly, inevitably, fall apart at the seams.
The Overture gives us a feel for the whole run before we begin. It speaks directly to the reader. Right from the off the tone is conversational; we’re in the pub too – part of the action.
‘You’ll have to prop him up when he leaves the building.’
And the questions leave us in no doubt that we’re expected to down a pint in each pub along with the rest of them.
‘Are you sick by now. Are you tired?’
Act 1 starts with our male narrator and we’re introduced to a team of lads. I don’t want to spend time, even a verse novella, revelling in lad culture but I’m already pretty confident that Joe Williams has other plans for the night.
I’m rewarded for my faith in the poet when the second pub is narrated by a woman – over thirty and reluctantly doing ‘the run’ with a hen party.
So there is a love story of a kind. Toga clad man and cowboy boots woman make their way along The Otley Run – their relationship maturing with each pint drunk. Will they snog, fuck, fall in love? I’m not going to spoil it for you but Williams treats us to a more intelligent and touching kind of romance than drunken jocks and hens might promise.
We get to know other characters: Ash (the utter knob) who starts as the relentless lad and degenerates into something really nasty; Joe (the friend who isn’t a knob); Sam (the mother of the bride to be) and Charlie (who declares she’s, ‘Two drinks from horny.’)
The rhythm gives the poem a lightness of touch – it carries you through the story, carries you along the Otley Road in an easy lope – much the way lager does at the sweet spot in the night when you’ve had some but not too much.
The language and the characters feel genuine – stopping short of stereotype because they’re so obviously closely observed and there’s warmth in Williams observations. It feels like these are people he knows and spends time with. And his criticisms of the gender politics, the homophobia, and the drinking culture are not heavy handed – they come through the telling of the story and the interaction between characters I quickly came to care about.
The twists and turns in the fortunes of the Otley runners on this particular night are a little predictable but the revelations are enjoyable and punctuate the acts like shots of flaming Sambuca.
Joe Williams - An Otley Run
Half Moon Books .
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