Table of Contents
2. The Author and General Aspects of the Novel
3. The Novel’s Narrative Strategies and Techniques
4. A Dead Narrator?
4.1. The Purpose of Dead Narrators
4.2. A Dying Narrator
4.2.1. A Flashback of His Life
4.2.2. An Interior Monologue
4.2.3. The Circle of Life
4.2.4. Thinking Reasonably
4.3. A Dead Narrator
4.3.1. A Story From Hell
4.3.2. When Soul Meets Body
4.3.3. Consistently Grotesque
4.4. A Living Narrator
4.4.1. The I of the Book Cannot Die in the Book
4.4.2. Survival of the Fittest
4.4.3. A Fib, a Hoax, a Lie
4.4.4. He Is Not Pronounced Dead
4.4.5. He Wipes the Slate Clean
6.1. Primary Sources
6.2. Secondary Sources
The plot of Charles Higson’s novel Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen published in 1996 is fairly straightforward. In the first chapter of the book the protagonist or anti-hero of the novel, who is telling the story at the same time, stabs Mister Kitchen with a candlestick during a quarrel they have while Mister Kitchen is visiting the protagonist to buy his car. In the course of the text the anti-hero then desperately tries to get rid of the (more or less) dead body, a task that becomes both his destiny and burden. Whenever the protagonist seems to get one step closer to dispose of Mister Kitchen, he is thrown back at least two steps due to a consistent unfortunate concatenation of events. Finally, all of the protagonist’s bad luck combined with his inability to a make plans that work literally lead to his downfall. It is this ending of the novel that raises the most challenging question since the protagonist’s further fate is up to the respective reader’s interpretation. In addition, the reader not only never gets to know the narrator’s name, but he/she also does not know his motivation for telling the story. However, these matters basically revolve around the central question whether the protagonist dies or stays alive at or after, respectively, the end of the novel.
The main aim of this paper is, therefore, to examine whether the story is or can be told by a dead narrator. This problem will be discussed by means of relating it to and embedding it into a general analysis and description of the novel’s narrative techniques. Since the topic of this paper is narratological in its character and since there is an obvious relation between the subject-matter of this essay and the novel’s narrative situation, this is of crucial importance to fully grasp the issue and to discuss it comprehensively. Thus, this paper is basically divided into two main parts. The first part presents a general overview of the novel’s narrative techniques and particularly focuses on characterisation in the novel and on the reliability of the narrator. In the second part of this essay some readings that either support or oppose the fact that the story is told by a dead or dying narrator are specified. All these interpretations will be based on evidence from and related to the text itself. On the whole, this essay will encourage different approaches to answer the underlying question of this essay, namely whether Charles Higson’s novel Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen features a dead narrator.
2. The Author and General Aspects of the Novel
The British writer, actor and comedian Charles Higson was born in 1958. He first gained greater publicity as one of the main authors and performers of the sketch show The Fast Show, which was successfully broadcasted from 1994 to 2000 on BBC Two. Between 1992 and 1996 Charles Higson penned four novels: King of the Ants in 1992, Happy Now in 1993, Full Whack in 1995 and Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen in 1996. In 2004 he wrote a series of James Bond books, featuring the young Bond and concentrating on the teenage spy’s schooldays at Eton. Most recently Charles Higson is working on and starring in the sitcom and Fast Show spin-off Swiss Toni on BBC Three. Humour and comedy have always played a central role in Charles Higson’s work, noticeably shape his novels and are vital elements of Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen as well.
On the whole, the genre of the book can be best described as a farce that blends surrealistic elements with slapstick comedy. The farcical quality is mainly obtained from the novel’s story line that jumps in fast-paced action from one to the next rather unlikely (and even absurd) situation. Besides, ‘the exaggeration of the protagonist’s actions and his highly improbable drug abuse are typical features of a farce’ (Oppolzer, 74). Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen also contains a lot of black humour or black comedy, in the sense that topics usually treated seriously are handled in a satirical manner.
I had to be civil to the man. I’d already killed the last guy who came to buy the car, I didn’t want to get aggressive with this one or the police might spot a trend. (Higson, 21)
This sort of humour may sometimes even be regarded as tasteless because ‘[it] does not recoil from taboos either’ (Mädl, 33). On the other hand, black humour may have a cathartic function in the sense that laughing about serious topics can ease problems and worries of life. In addition, ‘violence and brutality are also predominant [in the book] and the protagonist’s effort to dump the body is [extremely suspenseful]’ (Mädl, 5). Consequently, it can be argued that the novel also includes features that are typical of thrillers.
Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen consists of 20 chapters and it contains a lot of references to mythology and literature. Some themes that can be found throughout the novel are death, religion and anonymity, reoccurring motifs are, for instance, cars, drugs and dogs. However, the most noticeable repeatedly appearing element of the novel is the narrator’s obsession with weather forecasts. The anti-hero refers to them whenever possible; for instance, he replies during a conversation at a party to the following statement of a woman:
‘I think people should believe in ghosts.’ [with]
‘Why?’, I asked. ‘You might as well believe in Father Christmas, the weather forecast, virgin birth and economic recovery.’ (Higson, 163)
3. The Novel’s Narrative Strategies and Techniques
In general, the story of the book is told by a first-person (or homodiegetic) narrator in retrospective. Since the narrator is at the same time the main character of the book he is an I-as-protagonist (or autodiegetic or quasi-autobiographical) narrator. ‘It is only at the beginning that the author briefly moves to an omniscient levels and betrays his superior knowledge of events due to take place.’ (Winkler, 31) Here the narrator states that ‘[he] blame[s] the whole thing on the weather forecast’. (Higson, 2) However, what the “whole thing” is remains unclear and up to the reader’s speculation. ‘Even though the narrating self is very present and permanently comments on the situation’ (Winkler, 31), the narrative distance gets small in the further course of the book. Narrating self and experiencing self are extremely close and the knowledge of the reader is mainly limited to the perceptions of the protagonist while experiencing the events. The whole story line is presented through the eyes of the main character; therefore, the focalization is internal and fixed. In fact, the protagonist appears in every scene and the reader is entirely restricted to his inside perspective and point of view.
Even though the events are mainly recounted chronologically, there are also instances of analepsis and prolepsis in the novel. On some occasions the first person narrator reveals experiences from his past, which relate to the story, for example:
The stupid thing about it was that it had happened to me once before. It was about five years ago, maybe six. […] In those days Carrie had still been working as an interior designer, and I’d still been going out with her. (Higson, 138)
On the other hand, some future occurrences in the novel are anticipated or at least hinted on at earlier stages of the text. However, it is mainly up to the reader to interpret the clues the narrator gives – mostly without being aware of them – in order to find out what is inevitably to come. Thus, from the description of the dog on page 60 of the book ‘a Rotweiler, a devil dog, huge and mean and ugly’ (Higson, 60) it can be concluded that this beast will play a crucial and even partly antagonistic role in the course of the novel.
Even though the whole story is mainly told in hindsight, there are several instances where the tense switches from past to present. This is especially true ‘[w]hen [the narrator] talks about general topics like religion, history, society, identity, nationality and food[, where] he always switches to the present tense ’ (Winkler, 49). This gnomic (or generic) present emphasises that the attitude of the narrator has not changed. Furthermore, several instances of historical present occur in the novel to signify a climax.
The narrated (or story) time of the novel is roughly one day, which, as also discussed later in this essay, may even be the last day of the protagonist’s life. Considering a discourse (or narrative) time – depending on the reader, of course, – of roughly five hours, events are nearly presented isochronously. This may also be influenced by the author’s experience as a script writer, which also explains why the novel is written like a film script. However, there are also examples of slow down, for instance when the narrator describes the pictures in Adrian’s flat and of speed up tempo, for instance, when the protagonist is driving with his car from one setting to the next.
The language of the book is colloquial, informal and rude for most of its parts, yet sometimes even offensive. ‘Probably’, I said. ‘But sooner or later some bunch of marauding foreigners are going to come over here and obliterate us.’ (Higson, 115) The whole text seems like an oral story, a narrative device referred to as skaz, which makes the text appear spontaneously delivered and authentic. Therefore, ‘[while] reading the book one gets the impression that one really listens to the … protagonist, a fictional character, instead of Charles Higson.’ (Mädl, 19). However, the language of the very ending of the novel differs significantly from the rest of the book. The last paragraph is written in an extremely lyrical and poetic way, contrasts sharply with the grotesqueness of the situation the narrator is in and, therefore, emphasises the underlying ironic character of the novel.
Regarding the discussing of how the other characters and the protagonist in particular are characterised in Getting Rid of Mr. Kitchen, the first interesting thing to note is that the name of the protagonist is never mentioned throughout the whole text. Although the reader finds out a lot of details about the main character and his life, the protagonist never literally introduces himself or refers to his name, which is also not mentioned in any other context or by any other character. This namelessness can represent a depersonalisation of the anti-hero due to the crime he commits and his excessive drug abuse. In addition, the protagonist could simply symbolise other rich, urban males in their 30s with the qualities of yuppies.
‘This is Johnny’, he said, passing me a glass.
‘Johnny isn’t my name’, I said.
‘As if Margaret fucking cares’, he said. ‘As if anyone cares. As if it really mattered’. (Higson, 149)
However, the fact that the protagonist remains nameless also acts as a counterbalance or even contradiction to his very self-absorbed personality and, thus, also further foregrounds the grotesque character of the entire piece of fiction.
Another interesting aspect to note is that the reader potentially sympathises with the protagonist, even though he commits manslaughter and kidnaps his parents. This is generally valid for I-as-protagonist narrators, since the reader gets their perspective of the story and is dragged into their emotions and feelings. Furthermore, the reader may also be aware from the start onwards of the satirical character of the novel and, therefore, does not judge the anti-hero by the standards of real life. In this case the protagonist becomes an exaggerated character mainly with the purpose to satirise post-modern life. Finally, the narrator constantly addresses the narratee as “you”, which may help to win the reader over and to make the motives of his terrible deeds justifiable.
Since the narrator is also the protagonist of the novel, characterization is mainly figural.
Am I rude? I don’t know. Sometimes life just seems too short. There’s certainly something about me that winds people up. I’m good-looking, slim, confident, sell spoken, well educated, well off and I have a full set of hair, all qualities that the average Englishman despises. Plus I have a difficult streak, a compulsion to state the opposite view to whoever I happen to be talking to at the time. (Higson, 8)
‘You’re all the same,’ said Kitchen … . ‘You public school types. You’ve got no shame, have you? No concept of how you come across to other people.’ … ‘You talk loudly on buses, and in restaurants, and you don’t care that everyone can hear you. You have no idea of how you sound. You’re rude to waiters and shop assistants, you’re arrogant and …’ (Higson, 8)
In the first passage the protagonist describes himself, in the second passage Mister Kitchen characterises the protagonist by means of stating prejudices about that particular sort of person (a yuppie) the protagonist (seems to) belong(s) to. Both excerpts are also examples of explicit characterisation, which can be found throughout the novel. In the following quote from the text the protagonist describes another character, namely his dealer Adrian, which is an example of altero-characterisation.
He lived alone. He didn’t have a wife or girlfriend. In fact, I’d never seen him with an obvious partner, male or female. If he had a sex life of any kind it was completely hidden and secret. He was one of those people you can never imagine undressed. He wasn’t a physical person. He never hugged anyone, never kissed. He always wore a suit and tie and was very self-contained. He was friendly and polite to everyone, yet was always, somehow, alone, somehow separate. (Kitchen, 66)
In addition, there are also many instances of implicit characterisation throughout the book.
Ah, fuck it, Mister Kitchen would have to wait. After all, what better alibi was there?
’Where were you on the day of the murder?’
 Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Higson, May, 30th 2006. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/charles-higson, May, 30th 2006.
 Cf. Mädl, 21.
 Cf. Mädl, 26.
 Cf. Mädl, 29.
 Cf. Higson, e.g. 4.
 Cf. Higson, e.g. 219.
 Cf. Higson, 67.
 Cf. Higson, e.g. 144.
 Cf. Mädl, 97
 Cf. Winkler, 52.