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Nicholson the cult writer

Briton Geoff Nicholson is another very underrated writer – at least here in Australia, where it is rare to find his novels in bookshops or libraries.

His preoccupation is a rewriting of urban mythologies and obsessions – lunatic asylums, modern cannibalism, secret clubs, collectors, cult writers, Volkswagons. He chooses a subject like this and then assembles a plot around it, often complete with fascinating asides on the subject’s place in popular culture.

His writing is perceptive and literary, and yet the plot-drivenness makes his work feel more like popular fiction at times. He is perhaps most easily classififed as a cult writer. (Somewhere he has a great definition of a cult writer – something about it meaning you barely sell any copies but someone in a backwater town of the mid-west thinks you’re the ants-pants.)

The Food Chain‘s subjects are gluttony and secret clubs. Thus we have cannibalism in London and a chef at a fine restaurant ejaculating in the food, all in the course of a fast pace plot and a novel of just 180 pages.


Virgil Marcel arrives in London at the invitation of the Everlasting Club, an underground gentleman’s club which has been feasting around the clock gluttonously for three hundred and fifty years. He is kidnapped by a nude model in their employ, who takes him on a tour of British cuisine and kinky sex.

Meanwhile, Virgil’s father Frank suspects his wife is up to something.  Frank is the owner of a chain of successful Golden Boy restaurants, mediocore but reliable family restaurants. The ‘bolden boy’ is a fibreglass statue of Virgil as a young boy that graces the top of each restaurant. He opened a fine food restaurant which failed until Virgil turned it nasty and thus fashionable.


I suspect Nicholson plots his novels very tightly, and somehow I think this is the cause of my dissatisfaction… it moves too quickly and mechanically.

But I couldn’t put it down, maybe because of that plot drive. I also love the way he weaves popular culture and urban myth into his novels, and I think he has genuine insight into what it’s like to be alive. 

He’s always entertaining, even when his novels have that unfinished feel like those of Philip K. Dick. Recommended for fans of Dick, Paul Auster, and the Coen Brothers.