Exit Through the Wound is about nothing, and I don’t mean that in the same sense that Keeping up with the Kardashians is about nothing. More like it’s about nothing in the same way Seinfeld was: something happens, and maybe it briefly seems important or meaningful, but ultimately the stakes are super-low compared against the scale of the entire world – and that’s the point.
But Seinfeld focused on the amusing quibbles of nihilism, and ignored its dark and depressing side. Exit Through the Wound is consumed by the dark and depressing. It’s a blackly, laugh-out-loud funny book, one of my favourites of the year, I think, but parts of it made me want to stand on the edge of a building and go completely limp in the hope that I’d fall to my death without having to go to the actual effort of jumping off. (This is a very appropriate suicidal response to this book.)
Our hero is Maine Hudson, which is not his real name. Maine was raised in Greece but abandoned his home country and culture for the bleak streets of London,where a business consultancy pays him to email his co-workers and reorganise his desk. On weekends – and most weeknights – he consumes heavy quantities of pharmaceuticals.
Maine is not a likeable character, at least not in the I’d-want-to-spend-much-time-around-him way (which is fine, because if he were real he probably wouldn’t care to hang around himself either): he’s entitled, surly, morose. But jeez, you feel for this guy. His grim resignation to the unfairness of life – not in the sense that it’s unfair people suffer and die, but more how unfair that it’s all so mundane and pointless and godless – is palpable.
If that’s not a feeling you relate to, then: 1) You’re blessed or ignorant or both, and 2) Wound is probably not a book you’ll enjoy much.
The novel unfolds in 40 short chapters – almost like a string of short stories, really, in which Maine blankly endures his existence. Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or dumped by the love or your life is equally important, or minor, as having a stranger yell at you on the tube. Like Seinfeld, Maine is obsessed by apparent trivialities, “apparent” because these unimportant moment fill the bulk of our lives, and his observations of society’s absurd characters – office gossips, creepy gym-goers, vapid acquantainces – are sharp and hilarious. (If you too have been forced to attend corporate-style training courses alongside suspiciously enthusiastic personality voids, you will laugh.) The story spans roughly a year, and the first chapter in the book is the last chronologically – so you know from the start Maine won’t ride into the sunset after discovering true happiness. There is no such thing, maybe.
If you’ve followed North Morgan’s blog London Preppy for a while you’ll recognise Wound‘s style (and, like me, you’ll probably hope that for the sake of Morgan’s physical and mental health the adventures of his fictional alter egos aren’t too autobiographical). And maybe Morgan started out as a blogger who gained a following posting shirtless photos of himself – let’s none of us embarrass ourselves pretending that’s not why we started reading him – but he’s evolved into a powerful writer, one who gets that miserable sense of “So what?” that pervades adulthood, but also the strange detached amusement it can arouse. I am not a heavily sedated, depressive business consultant living in London, but some parts of Maine’s story felt true:
Going to the gym is part of my daily, obsessive routine that creates this wonderful sense of consistency, a consistency that I need to have because I’m so weak that I can’t deal with change. This is unfortunately offset by the parallel feeling that I’m trapped in a recurring nightmare, a lifestyle I never chose and can’t escape.