Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Tank _summer 16_books _80

Paperback, 336 pages
Publisher: And Other Stories (February 2016)
ISBN: 9781616954840
Language: English
Selected by Tank

This remarkable novel depicts the inner life of Martin John, a sex offender, and his God-loving Mam back in Ireland. It is an extraordinarily idiomatic book, riddled with the refrains of a maddened mind, a mind that is scared of P words and allegations, a mind driven unstoppably towards “It”, the unsavoury skirt-lifting, foot-rubbing perversion of Martin’s paranoia. Schofield implicates us in the voyeuristic, narrative-stealing mind of a pervert, and it is a bemusing, worrisome place to be.


The newspaper will always matter to Martin John.
He won’t be a day without it and it won’t be a day without him. 
It mattered before the “difficult time” and it matters today. The stability of it, the regularity, the newspaper women sustain him.
It’s why he calls into Euston on his way to work. Or, first thing every morning, if he’s not working, he’ll cross to the newsagents on Tower Bridge Road. The Irish Times he gathers each day at Euston, except Sunday, and a second British broadsheet, the choice of which he rotates, based on the headlines or the pictures of the columnists. There are a few frumpies he has no time for. There are photos and headlines and certain words that worry Martin John and he will not buy what worries him, because his mother has warned him not to.
Martin John, how many times have I told you, give up the papers when they’re worrying you, you cannot be in them if they’re worrying.
He never buys a newspaper if he notices a headline has petrol in it.
Or pervert. He’s not keen on P words.

The first page he reads is the letters page to see did any of his letters get through?

In John Menzies1 at Euston, amid the wefty drift of chips and cooking croissants from next door, he takes thoughtful time to select exactly the newspaper he wants, unhurried by the arms reaching around to grab the pink and flush Financial Times, or those who fold the newspaper abruptly. Stare.
The second thing he checks: the crossword clues. If they’re terrible – determined by reading three across and only two of the down (they’re always weaker on the down), then he chooses a different paper. The newspaper determines many things in Martin John’s daily life. 
You’ll only depress yourself, his mother has warned him. This country is gone to the dogs. It’s beyond the dogs, there’s not even the brick of a dog track left. Sure they’ve lifted the dirt from under our feet.
She never says specifically what’s wrong with the country, only offers the hint of cut-price airfares and suited-up Bucket-Air-gobshites and the price and rush of everyone. She blames it all on a man called Tony.
At least the dogs have a number on them. It’s more than can be said for the humans creeping their way about and giving no hint to whatever they’re hatching. They’d never give you that bit of information about themselves them fellas. You’d have to take their number.
She may be right about the dogs, but she’s lost the way with Martin John. She birthed him, raised him to obedience but never forgave the times he disobeyed.
Keep your hands to yourself and you’ll know well where they are.
He did not keep his hands to himself.

He phones her every Sunday, in the phone box, outside Waterloo Station. Most of the weekly events in Martin John’s life take place outside or inside train stations. It’s always raining when he phones and she can hear it. His money’s religiously running out, but she never offers to phone him back. 

Not at all, it’d only upset him, be an insult to the man. Martin John is a proud son. Hold on, he’ll say, “til I put another 50 pence in”.

[1] The branch of newsagent John Menzies in Euston Station was taken over by a WHSmith in 1998.