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Geoff Nicholson: Street Sleeper

This is Nicholson’s first novel but it incorporates many of the themes and even characters who will appear in his later works. Volkswagens, pornography, collecting mania, innocents abroad in the land, mad politicians, oral sex, faithless women, road journeys, Hitler – they are all here and in abundance. The characters, many of whom we will meet again in Still Life with Volkswagens, are Barry Osgathorpe, a librarian, who really only wants a blow job from his girlfriend, Debby, who is not coming across, Marilyn, the lady to whom he transfers his affections (though she doesn’t give him a blow job either) and her rich, violent and disgusting parents (Nicholson clearly has no love for the idle rich), Barry’s disciple, Davey, Fat Les, the Volkswagen aficionado and mechanic and Renata, a bored journalist. Barry, who decides to change his name to Ishmael, so he can say to people Call me Ishmael, sets out on a road journey to see England (and get blown). He meets Marilyn, first as a hitchhiker threatening unsuspecting drivers and then escaping from her parents and falls for her. Most of the story revolves around how Barry/Ishmael and Marilyn battle Marilyn’s parents, who want her home. Barry and Marilyn have assorted allies including Fat Les, Davey and assorted denizens of a commune but, more particularly, they have Volkswagen. As with Still Life with Volkswagens, this book is a hymn to that car, with the theme appearing throughout. We follow the history of the Third Reich (and after), as seen from the Volkswagen point of view. We follow Renata’s career from the Volkwagen perspective. Barry, of course, drives one, as does Fat Les (and the bad guys don’t, which is why they are bad guys). Even the pornography has a Volkswagen theme.

But, of course, though the plot is fun, what makes this book even more fun is the way Nicholson pokes fun at everybody and everything in a tongue-in-cheek manner – from Barry’s innocence to Hitler’s death, from the pathetic denizens of the commune to car-obsessives. No-one is immune and, even though Barry finally gets his blow job, it is in a crummy caravan with a red Ford Capri outside the door.

Publishing history

First published 1987 by Quartet