When I’m conducting fictitious interviews in my head, and my fictitious interviewer asks the inevitable question, who would your ideal dinner party guest be, I only ever have one answer. Joel Golby, I say. Joel who, they ask?
Joel Golby, Vice staff writer, author of ‘London Rental Opportunity of the Week,’ the article that dissects ridiculous rentals whilst skewering the disgusting power imbalance between landlords and tenants? Joel who, they cry?
Joel Golby, the man who has the power to make me read 1,200 words on which member of the Independent Group would be most likely to Eat A Worm? Joel who, they shout?
Joel Golby, author of the new book, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant.
Golby’s debut, part-memoir and part-essay collection, is an unflinchingly honest, often relentless, exploration of growing up and growing old. A shortened extract of the opening essay, ‘Things You Only Know When Both Your Parents Are Dead’, was shared widely after appearing in The Guardian. Written in the wake of his mother’s death, the piece speaks to the mundane (“My parents are dead and forms; forms, forms; forms, forms, forms”) and the achingly profound (“Instances of grief, I have found, are unique, two never coming in the same shape, and they can be piercing and hard-edged and they can be like passing through deep, dark treacle or they can be like a long, slow-passing cloud”). Its clarity and power is rivalled only by the closing essay, ‘Running Alongside the Wagon,’ which details his father’s alcoholism and Golby’s own fractured relationship with alcohol.
The book’s other essays, such as ‘Hot Sauce Capitalism’ or ‘Hey: Am I a Leather Jacket Guy?”, are more anthropological delves into the oddities of modern culture as opposed to meditations on life and death, but they make for equally compelling reads. At first glance, it feels like Golby’s primary skill as a writer lies in making the reader laugh, something he manages to achieve throughout the book. However, on closer examination, it becomes clear that his greatest skill is actually in making you care. Whether writing about whether the talking M&Ms from the adverts have genitals, or his frustration at how, having lost weight, his measurements changed from ‘Adult Size Large’ to ‘Adult Size Large’ (“I am screaming at the night sky, now, outside, so my breath turns to fog on the cold of it: if we are all Adult Size Large, then why do we have so many differences?”), Golby imbues the writing with such urgency that you end up genuinely invested in whatever topic he takes aim at.
Whilst the book is deeply personal, it is a testament to Golby’s talent that it still manages to tap into some sort of collective feeling. In ‘Running Alongside the Wagon,’ midway through a painful anecdote about seven year old Joel returning home from school to find his Dad passed out drunk, with a pint glass of unknown alcohol, Golby finds time to muse on the position of the pint glass in the “hierarchy of glassware” (beakers for clumsy children, nice glasses for water at dinner, and crisp crystal brought out only at Christmas).
If I was still of the age when I could acceptably dress up as a literary character for World Book Day, you would find me strolling into school, dressed as Joel, wearing my Adult Size Large with pride.
Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant by Joel Golby.
Anchor Books (2019)
Image: Penguin Random House.