Reviewed by Kate and Evangeline
Evie and Guy
/ Rien de Stars
Dan Holloway’s Evie and Guy is a book that divides opinion. Is it art? Genius? Masturbation? Or a load of old toss?
Rather than give a balanced review, we decided – because we can – to present both sides of the coin and let you deconstruct your own opinion.
If you care, we tossed that coin to decide who would argue what.
The Case for Genius
On my first skim through Evie and Guy, I didn’t read the introduction. I only knew that it was about two people, and their relationship, so when I saw the blank years, then the lists of dates and times, something in my head clicked: “These numbers are dates and times of when the characters were masturbating! Wait, no, what am I thinking?”
Well, I still don’t know what that says about me, but it turns out I was right.
The use of such a specific act, down to the seconds it took for the characters to complete it (or not finish it, as is sometimes the case with bracketed numbers) to tell a story gives us seemingly very narrow parameters. However, I discovered whilst reading through the numbers that distinct glimpses of character and plot opened up between those lines: school, parents, siblings, friends, life events, all showed themselves in my imagination. I found myself wondering what happened to Evie and Guy, and what the exact nature of their relationship was. It’s odd that a list sexual self-gratification times should be a window to so much more, but fascinating because the story will vary depending on who picks up this book.
Evie and Guy forces us to question what we think a novel is supposed to be. During my first year of university, one of our lecturers annoyed several of my course mates by suggesting a novel might not include any number of things we assume it should have: plot, characters, setting. I wasn’t convinced myself. I remembered this whilst reading Evie and Guy, as it seems reasonable to me now that you don’t need a plot, setting or characterisation in the traditional sense to still tell a story in novel form.
However, I’d almost like to see this book as a type of art installation, where it’s easier to hold the dates for Evie and the dates for Guy side by side, to see where their lives converge and separate, to compare what was happening before they met. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I bought the paperback, instead of reading it on an ereader, but I do think it would work well as a visual art as well as a novel. Whether that would remove some of the innovation and experiment from the book, I can’t really say for certain, but for me it would expand the purpose of Evie and Guy rather than ruin it.
I enjoyed Evie and Guy for a number of reasons. The author had a vision and he saw it through to the end. It wasn’t a vision everyone would understand, but it was his – I have a lot of respect for that. Also, we should applaud anyone who would use a common, but still somewhat taboo – particularly where women are concerned – act like masturbation as the cornerstone of their entire novel. The way the storytelling part of my brain fired up due to a list of numbers was not something I’d have ever considered before. I’m curious about what lies behind this psychologically or neurologically, and the idea that the story will be different for every reader really interests me as well. On the whole, I think there’s a lot to recommend here, and Evie and Guy is not just a novel, but a successful experiment and a fascinating experience.
The Case for Masturbation
The adorable Kate Garrett says that “Evie and Guy forces us to question what we think a novel is supposed to be.”
Well, allow me to retort.
No, it doesn’t. It invites us to. It suggests we might. But there is no compulsion here, no hook sharp enough. What Evie and Guy forces most people to do is ignore it, or mock it, or murmur ‘Oh, how interesting’ before filing it away alongside every other unreadable they ever acquired.
And in doing so, it actually forces us to confirm what we already thought a novel was. A book with words and a story. Possibly a sub-plot.
That’s the thing, right there. Novels tell stories. With words. There may be stories within stories, twists in the tale, subtext aplenty. The story may be a parable, a roman à clef, or a Menippean satire. But there should be something there to draw the reader on, for them to process and interpret and enjoy and care about as they read.
There is nothing here that does that. Unless you are a math genius with a didactic memory, you cannot possibly read Evie and Guy without, at least, a pad of paper and several sharp pencils.
My own idea – because I wear glasses – was to write a perl script to parse the text and transform it into data I could analyse and map graphically to show
- The wanking trend line for each character
- Those intersections when presumably they were masturbating together – did they ever orgasm simultaneously?
- The distribution around those intersections to show how often they may have inspired each other to self-gratification or made it largely unnecessary.
- That awkward moment when Guy wanked himself stupid and dry over his sister Evie’s cold and headless corpse
I was all up and ready to get that motherfucker done when I realized there was something halfway decent on TV.
So yeah, Oh how interesting …
Now let’s get picky with the detail. To be everything that Kate says it is, Evie and Guy would come with no words at all beyond the title and author’s name. No introduction, no explanation, no justification. The reader should be left to interpret the significance of the numbers as well as the narrative they tell. What if they related to cat torturing, eating cheese, or nose-picking – with and without blood? Conversations with RBRTZMMRMN, an alien from Cygnus X-1?
By imposing his own rigid meaning on the numbers, Dan Holloway has inadvertently emasculated his art. Leaving me, the reader, nothing to do but question and carp.
How do you measure an act of masturbation? Seriously? Do you start when you first get the inspiration, or when hand touches genitals? What about foreplay? Alternate erogenous zones? Time spent fantasizing and – possibly – toying with your breasts?
And how do you decide when it’s over? Even the male orgasm has a duration. The female, happily, can be repeated. Or is it a myth? I forget.
Do Evie’s numbers include multiples? I really think we should be told.
Also I would have liked to see the length of each orgasm reported, complete with a star rating. Perhaps the volume of Guy’s ejaculate? And how far it traveled?
Also also, all that sex and I wasn’t turned on once.
Curiously, there is nothing new here. If you ignore the numeric device, it’s the same old same old same old. Evie and Guy? Fucking Guy? Make it Evie and Kate, or Dan and Guy, or Evie and Kate and Dan and Guy. Force me to question what I think a relationship is.
Also, I take issue with the format. Which is surely as relevant a criticism as challenging sentence structure, grammar, POV or tense.
The adorable Kate and I actually arrived at a similar conclusion, independently. If I had been editing Evie and Guy, I would have presented the data in parallel columns to allow the reader to easily compare and contrast the lives and wanking of Evie and Guy. I guess, in truth, that’s my only real worthwhile criticism.
Evie and Guy may conceivably be “art”, but it’s not a novel. And it needed an editor.
Next week I shall review a YA Syfy Dystopian Fantasy by writing a perl script to parse the text, assign each letter a numerical value based on its place in the alphabet, and apply a random factor based on the numbers of vowels and consonants to generate a schedule of all the times the author masturbated while writing her book. I’m confident it will force you to question what you think a book review is supposed to be.