Thursday, February 8, 2018

Book Review: 'Shave My Spider!' by Tony James Slater

Everything about Tony James Slater invites you to enter his life – at least as a voyeur. He seems to be from Australia (or at least someplace British with all the ’whilst’ and substituting s for z in verbs, jocular nicknames and terms we don’t hear often in the US). He describes himself as a ‘very, very strange man. He believes himself to be indestructible, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He is often to be found making strange faces whilst pretending to be attacked by inanimate objects. And sometimes - not always, but often enough to be of concern - his testicles hang out of the holes in his trousers. It is for this reason (amongst others) that he chooses to spend his life far from mainstream civilization, tackling ridiculous challenges and subjecting himself to constant danger. He gets hurt quite a lot.’ That, by the way, is a fine example of his writing style – infectious is too benign an adjective. Tony also is an inordinately handsome man of movie star/model quality. But that is all peripheral information. Tony (and his wife Roo) are adventurers and that is what this thunderously wonderful book is all about – six howlingly entertaining months in Asia.

A synopsis? Be serious! Suffice it to say that this book takes us through Borneo, Vietnam, Mongolia, Laos, Cambodia, and China. Impossible to distill in a few short phrases except the obvious ‘I loved it! ‘ Better to seduce you with Tony’s own writing which follows in the next paragraph.
‘I never planned on going to China. Back when I first conceived of this trip, it was meant to be easy; an extended foray into the tourist hot spots of South-East Asia. I was developing a reputation as some kind of travel writer, but with one major stumbling block; I hadn’t actually been anywhere. My first attempt at a round-the-world trip had ended in France, where I was swindled out of hundreds of pounds, got molested by an old-age pensioner and narrowly avoided being incinerated in a prune-drying furnace by a gypsy-murdering farmer. It wasn’t exactly a rip-roaring success. My second trip took me as far as Ecuador, where I spent most of my time bleeding from monkey bites, or bleeding from machete wounds, or just bleeding for no good reason. It might not sound like it, but that trip was a lot of fun. Eventually I washed up in Australia, by way of a lengthy stay in Thailand – I only left there because I couldn’t afford to eat. And if you can’t afford to eat in Thailand, you’re in real trouble anywhere else. But I was lucky. I was born that way, I think, and it never manifested itself more profoundly than when I met Roo. Tall, slender and gorgeous, her permanently sunny disposition matched my own. She even shared my outlook on life; that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and that we should enjoy every single moment as though it were our last. On quite a few occasions, it nearly had been. Roo’s playfulness and enthusiasm make her seem much younger than she is – for example, she was recently ID’d whilst trying to buy superglue. Her love of fancy dress may also have been a factor; despite being 31 years old, it’s quite likely she was wearing wings at the time. Roo was my sister Gill’s best friend, yet I shamelessly stole her, made her my wife, and we’ve been together ever since. And for most of that time, neither of us could afford to eat. But things were starting to change for us. Against all odds, my first book, about my three-month-long near-death experience in Ecuador, was selling well. The second one, about Thailand, wasn’t doing quite as well. But that’s okay, because it was rubbish. Somehow I’d saved up enough money to buy the campervan of our dreams…‘

If you can resist that………go back to the bloody vampire novels or the Marvel Comics. But for genuine belly laughs (and some frights), Welcome to Tony James Slater. Grady Harp, May 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.