My review of I Don’t Want to Go To The Taj Mahal by Charlie Hill appeared in issue 66 of The Journal.
The first time I ordered a drink in a pub, I found myself asking for a ‘light beer’. I don’t know what I was thinking, really, but I’d probably picked up the term in some American film or TV show. After a few minutes huffing over the taps, the barman plonked down a half of Fosters on the bar, which served me right, really. It’s details like this that stay with you for your whole life, meaningless but inescapable, vacuous but haunting. I Don’t Want To Go To The Taj Mahal is anautobiography accumulated out of such minor moments. Trials, successes, loves, hopes: Charlie Hill’s vignettes explore the kind of casual haplessness upon which lives are built. If you’ve ever walked out of the room with the question ‘Why did I do that?’ burning into your mind, then you have a companion in Hill. He often seems as baffled by his effortless fuck-uppery as the reader, and it’s the tone of self-effacing confusion which helps the book succeed. An impish trickster playing with his own story, Hill is the kind of person, you imagine, who would happily pin a note reading ‘twat’ on Karl Ove Knausgård’s back. Baudrillard, Moeen Ali, Tindal Street Press: they all appear in the background cast as Hill navigates childhood, the Midlands, unemployment, travels through India, sex, drink, life-threatening hospital stays, more sex, pool games with bikers, bookshops, publishing, family. You come out of the book feeling you’ve known Hill all of your life, but being terrified of bumping into him and becoming collateral damage in his latest misadventure. The main lesson here seems to be that sooner or later everyone needs to find humour in their youthful messes, or go insane. It’s not the taste of the madeleine that launches you into the Proustian reverie: it’s that sad looking half pint of weak lager, dripping onto a bar towel.