Cold Turkey – Carole Johnstone


COLD TURKEY a novella  by Carole Johnstone

Purchased from TTA Press

Published 2014 (160 pages)

All my previous Reviews of TTA publications HERE.

Some of my previous reviews of Carole Johnstone fiction: hereherehereherehereherehere




10 thoughts on “Cold Turkey – Carole Johnstone

  1. Pages 9 – 18
    “Kids didn’t understand grief because they didn’t understand death.”
    I think fiction of a certain fallible Englishness (extrapolated to the world at large) and life’s chance abrasiveness do blend here in a lesson of stoicism which I feel this work starts with – a radiating, too, from much great horror literature – and it is (inadvertently?) designed to make the readers feel better about their own life. I once called it ‘revelling in vulnerability’. Yet it’s given me an addiction, since my early reading days, now demonstrated by my obsessiveness with reading and publicly describing / interpreting / evaluating such ‘fantastic’ books and the only way to cut loose, I guess, is by some method of cold turkey … There can be no weaning off.
    Here the abrasive Englishness is a lifetime of taking things for granted, i.e. that life is simply like this, but when the endemic habit of, say, smoking leads to inevitable generational or familial pain and disease, our ‘hero’ Raym here, who lives in a more modern era of nicotine patches beyond the 1950s which I recall had even more endemic smoking (my beloved grandmother ever had an ash-fragile fag hanging from her mouth as she treadled her sewing-machine), and Raym’s cutting colleagues and his work at the primary school and his attempts to break the habit, all redolent to that ‘revelling in vulnerability’ ethos of stoicism and indifferent fatalism, comic as well as inferentially tragic, reminding me of fiction by Elizabeth Bowen ‘lighted’ cigarettes in 20th century smoke-filled rooms, Alan Sillitoe, Will Self, Martin Amis, Alasdair Gray, Mark Samuels, Quentin S.Crisp, but essentially something new, something admittedly fragile and imbued with black fun but full of what I sense to be a literary promise that will transcend the lung-choked abrasiveness of olfactoriness. Well, that is what I expect as I slowly savour the hand-rolled, drawn-in paragraphs of this book…

  2. Pages 19 – 36
    “- but drinking inevitably led to more smoking.”
    The craving through Raym’s sudden jolt of a cold turkey abstinence from those drawn-in memory-haunted lungfuls of nicotine is counterpointed effectively with watching serial TV programmes to kill time (that modern approach of some channels playing all episodes of a series end to end in one gulp) and with hallucinatory dreams drawing on his childhood images like Crisp’s ‘Remember You’re A One-Ball”, here the top-hatted tally van man mixed with other monster things remembered from childhood TV; then arguments with his girl friend Wendy, and later comforting an ‘infant’ girl (from the Primary school he works at as a teacher of the older pupils), a girl who is scared of being late and of someone called Mr Cheese…with all the edgy edges such interfaces with reality or fantasy bring to one’s already vulnerable mental health in these circumstances… A story that is drawing me into its own cravings for people like me to read it, drawing me in by the smoke and mirrors of its artful fictional prestidigitation…
    As an aside, it does seem unfair that infant teachers who cut up coloured paper all day are paid the same as other teachers.

  3. Pages 37 – 60
    “At morning break, Raym braved the staff room with all the stoicism of a soldier shoved screaming over the top.”
    …like Raym, I am forced to experience what he is experiencing, fiction and truth, as the serious withdrawal effects now indeed start blurring reality and dream to the extent of one of the school kids he teaches informing him of seeing the tally van man, too, amid the nursery rhyme refrains of the nightmare….
    The fagless fugless fugue … But that’s my own refrain, not the book’s.
    I shall now leave reading about Raym till another day, leave him grappling, mid-fugue, with his headmaster and with Wendy (having her own fugues, I guess) and with his other means to staunch the accelerating side effects of abstinence (bar the odd cheating few drags, brilliantly evoked by choice words)…

  4. Pages 61 – 81
    “He could almost hear curtains twitch.”
    …( a) synaesthesia or (b) normal paranoia or (c) madness and nightmare overlapping or (d) time shrinking along with the curtains?
    More multiple choice questions: as a refresher exam in attentive reading:
    Does the headmaster wield (a) a prism or (b) a kaleidoscope?
    Who gave Raym his first cigarette: (a) his father or (b) the tally van man?
    Are the child witnesses to his ‘hallucinations’ (a) part of those hallucinations or (b) proof that the hallucinations are not hallucinations at all?
    Is a teaching assistant (a) a minimum wage spy or (b) a genuinely useful helper in the classroom?
    What did the girl in the same multiple choice exam as Raym do: give him (a) a sexy eye roll or (b) an unfriendly frown? Was she (a) real or (b) expunged retrocausally from any reality by a shrink of time?
    Did the lady shrink, whom Raym visits for counselling, imply that the dislocating effects of giving up smoking were due to (a) the breaking of a key routine within his Asperger’s syndrome or (b) something that cannot be revealed for fear of it being a plot spoiler of some fiction book he’s trapped within?
    Did this shrink say his nightmare vision of the top-hatted tally van man from his past was like (a) the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or (b) the irritating dreamcatcher himself who set this exam?

  5. Pages 82 – 105
    “And took another wonderfully bad drag.”
    …as I do of this book the crisply compelling plot of which cannot be divulged further for fear of spoilers but rest assured the rapid-fire questions and answers in my mind develop; yet giving up smoking is not always a single private choice entailed by the expression ‘cold turkey’ but a multiple choice of Jungian nightmarish helpers or hinderers, including those participants in Raym’s complicating love life who overlap those nightmares along with such mind-oxymorons as “All the best things are bad ideas.”
    Just one further option for my previous ‘teaching assistant’ question: or (c) an Al Quaeda terrorist as “…an admission of mass murder.”

  6. Pages 106 – 127
    “It all began to unravel in slow increments.[…] faltering missteps…”
    Raym’s Dad used to have catchphrases. I have them, too. My earlier one in this review: ‘fagless fugless fugue’ now seems to me to take on a new meaning, and I dare not tell you why for fear of spoilers and gaps appearing in your following the audit trail of Johnstone’s otherwise compelling narrative flow – especially as ‘fug’ is sometimes used, in my experience, as a euphemistic assonance for a ruder word!
    Indeed, this is a deceptive book, at one minute effectively using familiar horror tropes, at the next an originality of progression that contrasts for the reader Raym’s slow faltering missteps of slavish dependance to self with a comic dance of reality and nightmare that simultaneously tempts him with the sure-footed steps of a quickening crescendo … but toward an even greater ‘dying fall’?

  7. Pages 128 – 157
    “Curtains were twitching everywhere.”
    Suffice it to say that the climax of this novella as part of the school production for Easter is surprising, shocking even, as well as hilarious and brilliantly done within the whole preceding context, delightfully reminding me of those old-fashioned works of literature that come together with a festival or pageant that has been rehearsed throughout the plot. The whole school ethos indeed, and the characterisation of teachers, the staff room and so forth, are very believable and nicely done. That telling social ‘reality’ makes the seemingly outlandish or nightmarish elements materialise perfectly within (a) a chilling morality tale / fable or (b) an accomplished comic extravaganza or (c) a fantastical happening in cross-rhythms of dance-timing and nursery refrains or (d) a grotesquely effective horror story? For me, that is not a a multiple choice question but a summation of the novella’s memorable originality as not only each of those things but also all of those things at once.


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