Hardback:

Published: Lightning Books (November 2021)

ISBN: 9781785632921

Sour Grapes

Dan Rhodes

£14.99

‘Dan Rhodes is a true original’ – Hilary Mantel

When the sleepy English village of Green Bottom hosts its first literary festival, the good, the bad and the ugly of the book world descend upon its leafy lanes.

But the villagers are not prepared for the peculiar habits, petty rivalries and unspeakable desires of the authors. And they are certainly not equipped to deal with Wilberforce Selfram, the ghoul-faced, ageing enfant terrible who wreaks havoc wherever he goes.

Sour Grapes is a hilarious satire on the literary world which takes no prisoners as it skewers authors, agents, publishers and reviewers alike.

OUT NOVEMBER 2021. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW

Extracts

When viewed from the village green, as it tended to be, the parsonage stood to the right-hand side of St. Peter’s church, a yew tree and a grave-spattered lawn separating the two. A handsome brick building of three storeys, it had been built on the site of a previous, smaller church house and had been accommodating parsons for more than two hundred years. A list of their names could be found engraved on a wooden board inside the church. Its fortunes had declined though, and its latest incumbent had been the first to suffer its new incarnation as a semi-detached dwelling. A few years earlier, for reasons to do with money, the third of the building closest to the church had, with some internal bricking-up, been discreetly separated from the rest. It continued to fulfil its job of sheltering its parson from the elements, while the other two-thirds had been sold off. In spite of its greater size (five bedrooms and two bathrooms, according to the estate agent’s particulars), the part now in private ownership had been given the modest name of Parsonage Cottage.

read more...

Extracts

When viewed from the village green, as it tended to be, the parsonage stood to the right-hand side of St. Peter’s church, a yew tree and a grave-spattered lawn separating the two. A handsome brick building of three storeys, it had been built on the site of a previous, smaller church house and had been accommodating parsons for more than two hundred years. A list of their names could be found engraved on a wooden board inside the church. Its fortunes had declined though, and its latest incumbent had been the first to suffer its new incarnation as a semi-detached dwelling. A few years earlier, for reasons to do with money, the third of the building closest to the church had, with some internal bricking-up, been discreetly separated from the rest. It continued to fulfil its job of sheltering its parson from the elements, while the other two-thirds had been sold off. In spite of its greater size (five bedrooms and two bathrooms, according to the estate agent’s particulars), the part now in private ownership had been given the modest name of Parsonage Cottage.

Though the parson was not at home, his third of the building was neither empty nor quiet. His housekeeper, a Mrs Rosemary Chapman, was going about her business in the guest bedroom on the top floor – wiping surfaces, vacuuming, and humming as she went. This room wasn’t used very often so she didn’t always attend to it, but the parson had made a special request for her to get it looking extra nice, and she had taken to the task with her customary diligence. She had worked in this building for years, the current parson being her fourth, and though she liked to feel that she had always given her best, she couldn’t help but wonder whether she worked a little bit harder for, and took a little more care of, Reverend Jacobs than she had his predecessors. After all, he had been through so much, and needed her more than ever. She had known his wife, with her big earrings and her big laugh, and her cigarette always on the go, and at first she hadn’t known what to make of her, but as the illness moved in and took over she decided that she liked her very much. As she tended to her in that last, long year, those eyes had shone up at her and she had said thank you, dear Rosie, and you are so kind, and When I’m gone, you will look after him, won’t you? And now she was gone, and that was that, and it was down to Mrs Chapman to make sure the parsonage’s surfaces were shiny, and the parson’s clothes – clerical and secular – free of shaming creases.

She had more or less finished the guest bedroom, and was just giving its carpet a lucky final vacuum when the machine lost power. This moment had become a part of her routine. Though her build was powerful, she wasn’t getting any younger, and the parson, shamed by the sight of her lugging a heavy old Henry up and down the stairs, had upgraded to the modern, cordless type of cleaner. This had been a great improvement, but it came with the downside of always needing to be mounted on its charger at some point during a shift, requiring her to get on with other things while she waited for its battery to recharge. It seemed to give up at a different part of the house each week, and it was just bad luck that she now had two flights of stairs between her and the kitchen cupboard, where the charger was. She hummed the tune of a favourite hymn, ‘Praise For The Fountain Opened’, as she went down the first flight, and on the landing she stopped dead. She looked around, and listened. Things seemed different. She couldn’t work out how they were different, but something was not quite as it ought to have been. No longer humming, she carried on. Halfway down the next flight, she felt a draught on her legs. This was odd. She was sure the external doors were closed, and the windows open only a crack. Her sense of unease escalated. Don’t be silly, Rosemary, she told herself.

Still, she walked cautiously through the hall and towards the kitchen. There was now no denying that there was a draught – a breeze even – and from the clear sound of a wren’s song she knew that the back door must be open, the door that led into the garden and to the flagged path to the churchyard. She tried to tell herself that she mustn’t have closed it properly, but it was no use; she always left the kitchen until last, and had only been in there to get the vacuum cleaner. She hadn’t been near the back door all morning. It would have been the parson, that was all. He must have absent-mindedly left it ajar, and it would have opened by itself. Again, she told herself there was nothing to worry about.

She walked through the doorway, gasped, and put a hand to her thumping chest. The door was indeed open, and a man, if such a sight could be called a man, was standing beside the kitchen table, facing her. She had never seen anybody quite like him. His eyes were open, but blank, as if made of glass, or perhaps plastic, seeming to stare at a point far beyond the walls of the house. He was tall and thin, and though he was several feet away he still seemed to loom over her, and she noticed with horror that he appeared to be carrying in his hand a shrunken, severed head that looked as though it was a miniature version of his own. Perhaps even worse than that, she saw that behind him hung a long, thin tail. He began to talk but she couldn’t understand what she was hearing; though the sounds he made were something like words, they were not words she had ever heard. She began to shake, and felt her legs weaken. The new, and quite expensive, vacuum cleaner clattered to the floor, and she steadied herself against the door frame. She knew she ought to be screaming in the hope that help would arrive, but she was frozen in terror. The strange, droning language went on and on, and the world seemed to swim around her. Just as time was losing all meaning, the sounds stopped.

The visitor, now silent, seemed to look not into the distance but straight into her eyes. As she trembled, Mrs Chapman took in some more details. He was wearing black trousers, a dark grey shirt and a black blazer, his face was a greyish white, and he was covered in mud and leaves, as though he had risen from the earth. She wanted to call God to protect her, to bring something holy into this tableau. She tried to sing the hymn she had been humming: There is a fountain filled with blood… but it was no use. Her voice would not cooperate.

The visitor raised a thin hand – the one that was not holding the shrunken head – and slowly ran his long fingers through his hair, where they seemed to find what they had been looking for. Something that was almost a smile, yet at the same time was not a smile at all, passed over his face, and as he withdrew his hand from his hair Mrs Chapman could see that between his forefinger and thumb was a large and brownish-grey slug, curling and uncurling as if desperately trying to get away. With quite some vigour the man rubbed it between his fingers for a while, then took a long look at it, seeming to appraise and appreciate it, then put it, whole, into his mouth. After what seemed like an eternity, he began to chew.

The soft squelches of the chewing knocked her out of her catatonic state, and she thought about how desperately the slug had tried to save itself, right up to the last. Taking inspiration from it, Mrs Chapman raced past the black-clad figure, out of the open door, and toward the laurel hedge that separated The Parsonage from Parsonage Cottage. She had not run a step since her school days, but with all the speed she had within her she thundered into the leaves. There was no pathway, not even a handy gap, but that didn’t stop her. With all her strength she forced her way through the branches, and it was only when she was on the other side, safely in the garden of Parsonage Cottage, that she let out the scream she had been holding back for so long.

quotes

Praise for Dan Rhodes

‘A true original’

Hilary Mantel

‘Few writers can match Rhodes gag for gag’

Daily Telegraph

‘Dan Rhodes is totally sick and brilliant in all the right ways’

Douglas Coupland

‘Going too far is Dan Rhodes’ forte’

The Observer

‘Laugh out loud hilarious’

Stewart Lee

reviews

extras

ABOUT

Dan Rhodes

Dan Rhodes is the author of several novels and story collections including Anthropology: And a Hundred Other Stories (2000), Timoleon Vieta Come Home (2003) and When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow (2014). He was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003, has won a number of literary prizes, including the E.M. Forster Award, and was named one of the Evening Standard’s ‘People Who Make London Swing’ despite never actually living there.

selected works

more titles coming soon...

leave a comment