Good Times in Dystopia
Zero Books, 2020
Review by Peter Bearder
Featured Image by oneslutriot
Additional artwork by Junk Comix
The literary output of squats, occupations and other autonomous spaces is vanishingly small. Squatters, almost by definition, are invisible and unchronicled. What literature does exist, often arrives in the form of anarchist polemics, or lazy and ill-informed journalism. It is rare then, that we have an accomplished, biographical novel from one still surviving, fighting and thriving in the much-repressed squatting movement.
Good Times in Dystopia is a real-life account of years spent squatting, protesting and travelling. ‘Bloated on our mischief’ George F’s anonymised band struggles to maintain its ‘debauched saturnalia’, frequently passing out in the blurred edges of sobriety, monogamy and tenancy. George describes the ‘erotic agony’ of squat mates in the next room ‘either fucking or torturing each other to death’. There are tales of gate-crashing Pentacostal churches services, as well as several amusing attempts to break into a theme park.
Along the way, the book opens an (unlocked) window to the European underground of social centres, squats and protest encampments.
‘… it’s like guerrilla warfare. You’re up against a much bigger, much stronger enemy, one who would crush you in direct confrontation…You hit-and-run. You strike where the capital is weak, get what you need, hold the position for as long as you can…You find communities that will help you, other cells and units out there in the city …’
Yet this is not an instruction manual for militant homelessness. There is no attempt to persuade the reader that squatters are freedom fighters, or to sensationalise them in two-dimensional squat porn of romantic destitution. Instead, real life characters are conveyed in all their complexity as vulnerable, brave, unfaithful believers, stumbling, laughing and vomiting their way through kleptomaniacal speed binges and flash points with the law.
George’s almost ethnographic eye for detail helps to substantiate the miscellany of objects so familiar to destitute buildings. On arriving to a squat in France he describes the ‘random assortment of lamps and wooden crates of spray cans, power cable extensions, broken amplifiers and bottles of anonymous liquids.’ ‘One shelf is filled with pickled embryos,’ he continues:
‘…tiny closed-eyed kittens pressed into jars of broken formaldehyde, their little paws pressed yearningly against the glass, mouths aghast, baring teeth that will never grow…’
The book is littered with the pathetic fallacy of fallen ceiling tiles, peeling paint and gothic enclaves where ganga smoke creeps through holey steams of Sitex filtered light. Passages like ‘I masturbate like a caged chimpanzee in a drug rage at a vivisection lab’ show the author’s mastery of comic grotesquery, an aesthetic that appears to have grown from the anarcho-punk sensibilities of his environment. Here George describes the studio of his lover, the artist ‘Mierda’, with its walls covered in:
‘…pornographic alien vaginas, swollen naked obscenities… drunken pirates and cackling whores and trans-gender third sexes with fake tits and tumescent crotch-bulges spilling drinks and snorting lines in some seedy pub…’
The writing has a viscerality, as well as a sense of humour and timing, that I suspect has also grown from his craft as a spoken word poet. The resulting style is free of beige niceties and speaks with all the texture and urgency of his situation.
Anyone looking for a subtly crafted plot and well-developed characters may be disappointed. Instead, the book serves as an anthology of dispatches from a man ricocheting between a litany of empty buildings, protests and hitched road trips. This constellation gives a disjointed feel that mirrors the internal world of a man progressing through a failing relationship with various substances and anything that can be called home.
In short, Good Times in Dystopia deserves celebration as a literary trapdoor to a clandestine culture, illuminated in the best way possible – from within. It stands as a rare contribution to the culture that it has grown from and belongs on the shelf of anyone with an interest in urban wilderness.
Peter Bearder is the author of Stage Invasion, available here.
You can order a copy of Good Times In Dystopia here.