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Review: Mervyn vs. Dennis

Trapped in an endless cycle of low-paid work, aspiring novelist Mervyn is beginning to get desperate. So desperate that at interviews for jobs he’s patently ill-suited for he’s prepared to clutch at the nastiest of straws. So it is that Mervyn meets Dennis, a manager at a games testing company, and pretends to be a fellow racist to secure a steady income.

Mervyn doesn’t expect this tactic to work, overt bigotry being so distant from his own character and worldview. Yet it does – too well, in fact. Dennis won’t leave Mervyn alone. He’s so enthusiastic about having Mervyn work with him that he agrees to absurd pay demands. With his eyes on the prize, Mervyn realises far too late that he is now Dennis’s best friend.

Mervyn vs. Dennis, a highly entertaining page-turner about real misfits, the weirdness of human relationships and the mysteries of pineapples, is a wild ride. It is consistently funny yet somehow manages to avoid lapsing into awkward, squirm-inducing cringe comedy territory.

Comic novels are a rarity today, and perhaps it is for that reason that Mervyn vs. Dennis has been published directly via Amazon. The greatest shame in this scenario is that it may miss out on the audience it deserves, and that potential audience may miss out on a singular and very funny short novel. I could not possibly describe any of the moments that had me smiling, sniggering or laughing out loud – name the last time someone repeated someone else’s joke and it was actually funny – but rest assured, those moments were plentiful.

For all that it’s an openly fun and funny story Mervyn vs. Dennis deals in some hefty themes. The handling of racism and bigotry is intriguing. Prejudiced characters are mocked, portrayed unflatteringly and turned into figures of fun, rather than being hounded with castigation and punitive exclusion or, at best, receiving a generous explanation of just why they are full of shit. The novel’s events take place in 2006, when even in Brighton – the demographically youthful and progressive setting – bigoted remarks were as likely to be laughed off as directly challenged, particularly when they came from your boss. Attitudes may have changed but, regardless of your thoughts on how individual bigots are best tackled today, the direction taken in Mervyn vs. Dennis is demonstrably a valid one for a comic novel.

It’s also notable just how empathetic this novel is. It is witty and sharp but it is not cruel. Mervyn’s attitude towards Dennis evolves from hatred and contempt to pity and sympathy for the awful, broken person before him.

Perhaps Mervyn tacks ever-so-slightly too close to being a Perfect Protagonist, cleverer and more observant than those around him, but let’s not forget that he is a man who pretended to be racist to get a job – he’s down here in the muck with the rest of us. And what better medicine can be found down here than laughter?

[Mervyn vs. Dennis is available on]

[Disclaimer: I’m friends with the author, having worked with him many years ago at a Brighton-based games testing company. I can confirm that any resemblance between characters in this novel and persons living or dead is entirely coincidental!]

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