Amazon lists Craig Stone’s The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness under humour, a genre that makes me think of Last of the Summer Wine, or Friends – something that you put on in the background as white noise to define your thoughts against. Or just to make a cup of tea to. In other words, it is something I would never buy.
The story is about Colossus Sosloss – named so by his father because he believes that names define character, and so a Jerome will always be a Jerome, whereas a Colossus will… – a man who chooses to quit his job and his conformist life to live in a park. Where he makes an enemy of the park attendant, befriends a masturbating lost soul, and gets accused of murdering and mutilating park animals. Fun.
The comedy name almost put me off, and the first few pages took some getting used to the masses of description – I’ll admit I almost gave up on it right there.
I’m extremely glad I didn’t. The premise of leaving your dull life behind is something everyone can identify with, but leaving it to live in a park may not elicit enough empathy. Why not bugger off to an Australian beach (I know, I know – visas), or tramp around European glories with your EU passport? To quit everything and simply live in a park seems absurd. Except Stone makes the park feel like paradise when compared to his work environment where his co-workers
“sit nodding into their screens like drinking birds, perpetual motion machines; biscuits in hand, crumbs falling into their coffee; slurping and silently farting themselves through the morning”.
Who wouldn’t want to live in a park with an office environment like that?
Colossus finds his dreams are not realised in his new life. He may have escaped his machine-like existence, but the loneliness of homelessness soon hits him when people’s eyes increasingly avert from him as his beard grows more and more unwieldy. Stone highlights the human condition beautifully as Colossus’ dream becomes nightmarish. Sleeping free under trees is no fun when lunatics roam the park watching you in your sleep, and the park attendant’s mission is to see you arrested for mutilating “his” animals. And you are never really free – Colossus remains attached to private possessions in his supposed freedom as he did when chained to the rat race – his sleeping bag for example: each day throwing up challenges in hiding it.
The plot is a good enough reason to read the book, but the real fun is in the fantastic imagery and asides Stone peppers throughout, with almost every one hitting the humour or surprise spot. Like this one, where another homeless person gets too close for comfort:
“He mutters a conglomerate of inebriated obscenities at me but they are laden with so much alcohol the words are heavy and fall from his mouth to the floor, dying from liver failure before they have any chance of reaching my ears”.
Genius. I love the follow through: “One of his words did not die and it lays isolated in the concrete path uncontrollably shaking”. The book is full of these gems.
There were times when I wondered where the story might head, seeming a little aimless. Colossus, we vaguely learn, is living in the park for writing inspiration, but books about writers rarely grab. However, it takes a dramatic turn late on with the authorities’ concern about someone going missing, giving the story an urgent kick for plot fanatics, and ending in farce and real fear, showing that Colossus really does grow on you.
I first heard of Craig Stone in an interview at Indie Author News and I wanted him to make it big from that point on. In real life he really did leave his job to live in a park under a tree, and stayed there until he wrote this book. The man is clearly bonkers, but if it produces stuff like The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness, then more authors need to do it.
Overall, I recommend the book for those who like a fresh twist on looking at the everyday. Plot fiends will find plenty to enjoy too. But “humour” does not do it justice. What about a new section called “If you want to have a proper belly laugh, Amazon recommends…”?