Shitstorm, by Fernando Sdrigotti, Open Pen, 2018
Shitstorm is the new book by Fernando Sdrigotti, the Argentina-born Stoke Newington-based doyen of the London indie lit scene. He’s the editor of Minor Literature[s], and his work is widely published, both in Spanish and English. Also, he’s very good looking, though his sartorial choices make clear that his beauty isn’t rooted in a potent, raw sexuality (like Prince, Madonna or Scott Manley Hadley), instead he has a well-proportioned face. He’s the Hollywood “boy next door type” – in a movie he wouldn’t be the leading man, but in real life he turns heads, even in crocs.
Shitstorm is Sdrigotti’s follow-up to Dysfunctional Males, a 2017 collection of long short stories, basically short novellas. It seems unsurprising, then, that this book, released as part of Open Pen’s new “novelette” series, contains a single story of a similar length to these.
In Dysfunctional Males, Sdrigotti’s syntax occasionally evidences his native Spanish, but in Shitstorm, published only 18 months later, this is completely gone. In spite of the “cleaner” English, though, Shitstorm feels far more of a South American text than Dysfunctional Males The previous book contains picaresque fiction about London, and is written in the style of picaresque fiction about London.
Shitstorm, structurally and tonally, reminded me of the recent “greats” of South American fiction. Here is that familiar, relentless, forward drive, that sense that the present must inevitably be lived intensely because the past and the future exist within it simultaneously.
Sdrigotti’s book is about social media shitstorms. It starts and ends with a North American dentist who goes lion-hunting in Africa and – rightly so – gets publicly shamed. Inside this frame, the central part focuses on the furore surrounding a major terrorist attack in Central London, the responsibility for which is claimed by both ISIS and a White Nationalist group. The commentariat from both sides of the political spectrum (does a spectrum have sides?) weigh in on how their chosen explanation of events proves their chosen narratives about the world. It’s funny.
Basically, the book is a satire of “the now”, full of familiar figures from the British and international media, full of platforms and websites and agencies and places that are ripe for satire: Sdrigotti takes aim at people who take themselves and the world “too seriously”.
Shitstorm uses a lot of coarse language and imagery, and it’s full of pleasing divergences from the main narrative, some of which take a few sentences, and some of which take paragraphs. At under 100 pages (and almost half the size of a “standard” paperback – a small, pleasing object) it’s a quick, intense, read that takes maybe about an hour. And it’s hard to put down, too, because the text’s momentum pulls a reader through like a dolphin on a fishhook.
Does Sdrigotti have a particular axe to grind? Is there a clear political viewpoint here? Not really, which is in itself a stance. “Being able to satirise anything” is very much a signifier of privilege, innit? Being Argentinian, Sdrigotti baulks at being referred to as Generation X, but as a white, heterosexual, conventionally attractive man who is a teacher, father and public intellectual, he is clearly invested in the status quo. Is Shitstorm a radical text? It’s hard to say, but my instinct is no.
I don’t think Shitstorm is necessarily trying to be radical, though. What it is trying to be is funny. And is Shitstorm funny? Yes, it is.
Is Shitstorm on-point satire about contemporary news cycles, the prevalence of opinion over reportage and the use of intentionally-stoked “outrage” as a means to increase traffic (and thus ad revenue)? Yes.
Is Shitstorm worth its five pound cover cost? I’ll be honest, I was given a free digital copy, but I don’t feel like had I paid five pounds I would have been angry. Certainly, I have definitely spent more than a fiver on books that gave me a lot less pleasure than this. So, yeah, it’s worth it.
My concern with Shitstorm is that time may muddy its references, and Sdrigotti – writing with a deliberate disinterest in longevity – knows this. In lieu of descriptive characterisation, he uses barely-concealed pseudonyms of “celebrity” figures, and slightly-altered references to real events, and though the understanding of none is “essential” to the plot and “message” of the book, comprehension does aid enjoyment. Will Sdrigotti be forgotten before the self-important dullards his book is taking the piss out of? Hopefully not, but he definitely seems to believe he will be. It’s reassuring to see such humility from someone so good-looking.
Scott Manley Hadley is Satire Editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse and his debut poetry collection, Bad Boy Poet, is available here.