My supervisor recommended a number of books to read to get myself into the mood and rhythm of the type of book I wanted to write, and one of them was John Birmingham’s He Died with a Felafel in His Hand.
The title of the book was something I was very familiar with, but to be honest I didn’t even know it was a book. I had heard about it years ago as a film, a typically [insert adjective] Aussie film starring Noah Taylor. To be fair, I never watched it, and don’t intend to.
So naturally, I was not convinced that the book would be a good read. I was wrong. He Died with a Felafel in His Hand is a cracker of a book and John Birmingham is a ridiculously good writer.
The title (and the first line) of the book is a reference to one of the many housemates Birmingham lived with in share house accommodation during the 90s. The whole book (and it’s a short one — my typo-riddled library-borrowed version was 214 pages) is filled with outrageous and hilarious vignettes about all the crazy housemates Birmingham encountered and the type of things they got up to, usually involving horrific hygiene, a plethora of drugs and bizarre, freaakish, unexplainable human behaviour. All laugh out loud stuff.
It’s a very easy book to read because there is no real structure — there are chapters but he just goes from one housemate to another, from one house to another. You do kind of get lost in all of it but it doesn’t really matter because all the stories are so well-written and funny. There are also little side-stories told by his friends that are equally insane and disgusting, though it took me a while to realise that they were not Birmingham’s personal stories.
Birmingham’s voice and his style is right on the money. It’s conversational, observational, extraordinarily sharp and witty. It’s not overtly descriptive but each description manages to hit the bullseye in just a few words. Definitely someone I can learn from.
I really enjoyed He Died with a Felafel in His Hand and will most probably read it again.
5 out of 5
[PS: I can totally understand, however, why a movie version would have flopped because it could not have been very faithful to a book like this where everything is all over the place and there is no real narrative thread.]