The Cry of the Sloth: The most tragic story of Andrew Whittaker being his Collected, Final and Absolutely Complete Writings
(Sam Savage, 2009, London, Phoenix)
Andy has too much to deal with and no one to share the burden of his responsibilities. He is overwhelmed; he is lonely. His childhood is a black hole; he is missing from family photographs while his sister is not. From the book’s one-sided letters, we gather his sister sends him unsympathetic, potentially nasty, correspondence. He has been cheated on and disregarded thus his disregard for many potential magazine contributors is amusing. However, the poetry Andy receives from a young writer is beautiful: ‘walking barefoot in the dew-sparkled morning and stepping on the “diamond-soft pins” of new-cut grass’ (p.93). Andy writes encouragingly to the young author, more so after she sends some slightly provocative photos.
This novel is written in metafictive, epistolary style. Each of the narrator’s letters is a character in itself; he creates his own fiction as he writes. He is, evidently, the sole contributor, writer and editor of literary magazine Soap. His letters are interspersed with shopping lists, adverts for the rented properties he owns, notes to tentants and extracts from an in-progress novel.
The Cry of the Sloth revolves around infidelity (his wife left him) and a dying ecosystem (the crumbling apartments are not fit for purpose; the sick chickens in his novel). The enmity he feels towards some correspondents filters into his fiction, suggesting the letters he writes are also fiction. The fact he is broke also leads to questions about how he can afford to send so many letters and postcards.
The book is sad yet enjoyable and reveals the burden of money, possessions and modern life on an already overloaded mind.
This edition includes reading group notes and suggested further reading from the author including works by Paul Torday and Marina Lewycka.