La Squab – The Black Rose of Auschwitz , David Britton, Savoy Books, 334pp. Publication 16 April 2012.
” La Squab by David Britton represents a departure from the author’s reputation as the creator of Lord Horror, the last novel to be banned in Britain.
Masquerading as a book for children, the primary inspirations of La Squab are The Wind in the Willows -if Grahame’s classic had been re-written by Adolf Hitler! -and the ‘Fudge & Speck’ comic strip created by celebrated Beano cartoonist Ken Reid.
At once loony and dangerous, La Squab relates a picaresque river journey down a Thames whose metaphysical qualities exist only in Mr Britton’s imagination. Along the ways favourite children’s characters such as Tiger Tim, Angel Face and Weary Willie & Tired Tim are encountered, together with real-life historical figures Alfred Jarry, Sigmund Freud, Leni Riefenstahl, and Lord Horror’s treacherous doppelganger, Lord Haw-Haw.
The final destination is a submerged Auschwitz conjured afresh beneath the mighty Thames. There La Squab’s playful romp through literature and topsy turvy morals reveals that all is not always well in the end!”
So what did I think of it? This is the fourth of David Britton’s “Lord Horror” novels, the others being Lord Horror (1989), Motherfuckers, the Auschwitz of Oz (1996) and Baptised in the Blood of Millions (2000), also published by Savoy. (see Panegyric)
“La Squab”, billed rather ironically as “A nuggerty treasure book for children of all ages” is profusely illustrated and inspired visually by the “Fudge” comic strips of Manchester cartoonist Ken Reid. I loved the illustrations, most of which feature a distinctly naughty-looking La Squab. Most are in black & white, but you do get a pair in colour at the front of the book, and several on the outer dust-jacket. La Squab, a malevolent moppet who first appeared (looking rather younger) in Savoy’s “Meng & Ecker” comic #9, is, along with Lord Horror, a major character in this book. In the text, Britton continues with his long-term project to attack anti-Semitism by means of brutal and gory satire (for nothing could be more brutal or gory than Auschwitz). In this book Britton seems to have toned it down a bit, for while there are corpses, horrors, and razoring aplenty, there’s no actual sex.
It takes the form of a fantastical journey along the Thames, where we meet such characters as a talking, mermaid-eating water-mill, and other monsters such as the wonderfully named Lammy Pie, the Splattersplooch, and the Jolly-Boy. The text constantly refers to elements of popular English or more highbrow world culture. References to children’s book characters, such as Tiger Tim, from an earlier era will miss the mark with some readers. There’s also a talking crematorium, and a boat with Hitler on it, for the Auschwitz thing becomes more overt as the journey progresses.
While Britton is trying to make a serious point, this book is, with its fantastic scenes and spot-the reference intellectual games, quite a lot of fun. And I already mentioned the Kris Guido illustrations. It also makes a good introduction to David Britton’s other work. Since this is “masquerading as a book for children” you might not want to give it to your kids, though :-).
As a bonus, the book contains a CD of Fenella Fielding reading from the first two chapters of the book.
For Savoy info see Savoy Books