Friday, January 16, 2015

WTF Friday: The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't get a lot of press, and which rarely get any retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

It's been a while since Sally has stopped by with a review, but when she saw what Donald and I were doing with WTF Friday, she insisted on taking part. Her first contribution is actually one of my all-time favorite books, but since I read it before I started blogging, I've never had the opportunity to review it myself. Fortunately, I believe she has captured the essence of it very well indeed . . .

How does one even begin to describe the twisted genius of Jesse Bullington, or the tortured gratuity of his sophomore effort, The Enterprise of Death? This is the kind of book that beats you over the head, robs you of your expectations, stomps upon those expectations, and then gleefully urinates upon the mess . . . all while you nod delightedly and ask Bullington to do it all again!

Yes, this is a wonderfully messed-up book, set in a wonderfully messy world, that comes across as a mixture of Terry Gilliam’s most surreal and Clive Barker’s most sexual. It is a book of nightmares and fantasies that are as much the Brothers Grimm as they are the Marquis de Sade (which, to be honest, are already far more alike than most us might care to acknowledge). This is a darkly cynical tale of human history, told neither by the historians nor the victors, but by the sad souls forced to live out its cruelties and delights, armed only with an unflinching eye and a very dark sense of humor.

As readers, this is a story that demands of us an empty stomach and an open mind. Seriously. Do not even think of whipping this puppy out and trying to breeze through a few pages while you are making dinner. It is a book that repeatedly gives rise to open eyes and open mouths, as often in delight as in disgust. With a stove-top of stew bubbling before you, you would not be at all remiss in worrying about what might escape that open mouth. The world of The Enterprise of Death is one populated almost entirely by the scum of society - soldiers, slaves, eunuchs, prostitutes, and criminals - all without an ounce of morality between them. Even those characters who do not revel in evil and brutality are often casually cruel, and at least amoral, if not immoral. Go into this looking for pure, noble, virtuous heroes and you are going to be sorely disappointed!

What you have to understand here (and this is important) is context. Really, context is everything if you are going to allow yourself to enjoy this. When you are stuck in such a world, and forced to choose between the supernatural horrors of zombies and vampires, and the all-too-human horrors of necrophilia, bestiality, and cannibalism, it is really hard to fault the characters for not exactly being paragons of virtue. They are, however, disturbingly endearing characters (particularly Awa and Monique) with whom we are more than happy to tag along on this journey through the horrors of the Inquisition. Yes, I did say happy, although you may very well prefer not to shake hands at the end of the journey.

The one thing that bothered me about the book is the writing style. The story regularly leaps between past and present, a narrative device that is further confused by frequent jumps in viewpoint from one character to another. Also, for you linguistic purists out there, be cautioned that this is a story that is written in a 15th century style (with some quirky turns of phrase), but full of very 21st century dialogue (that is guaranteed to make even the most jaded reader blush at least once). Despite the contradictions and confusions, it all just works. Really, once the story comes together in your head, it holds fast for the duration.

The Enterprise of Death is quite possibly the strangest book I have ever enjoyed. Too dark and morose for a vacation beach read, it is entirely fitting for a cold, drafty, candlelit room during a violent winter snowstorm. It is most definitely not for everybody, but if the subject matter and storytelling style hold any appeal to you at all, then it is worth investing the time in a read. It is a twisted bit of fun . . . the very definition of a WTF guilty pleasure.

Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 24th 2011 by Orbit


  1. A mix of Gilliam and Barker? That is twisted.

    1. Apparently, his debut (The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart) is even more twisted, although his latest (The Folly of the World) definitely dialed things back a bit.

  2. This is the most recognizable book I have seen in this series of yours. I read Brothers Grossbart before blogging, it certainly is twisted.

  3. I'm definitely going to leave this one to you, Bob! Although my stomach can stand up to a lot of graphic horror, when someone goes to the trouble of giving me SEVERAL warnings about a book, I'm probably going to skip it.

  4. Hmmmm, I have this to read for some reason (random whim, probably). I'm not sure it sounds like my thing, but I'm intrigued anyway.