It’s not often that I discover a book so unique, so bizarre, and so badass that I choose to publicly word-vomit about it to all of the several individuals who occasionally stumble across this site by mistake, but Nutcase by Tony Williams is one of those rare exceptions. Nutcase is basically an updated, modern-day retelling of the Icelandic Saga of Grettir the Strong set predominately in the crime-ridden, brutalist housing projects of Yorkshire and the Humber. And it’s brilliant.
Anyway, the story arc follows the Icelandic original, but with necessary and clever modifications to suit the tale to its modern context. Grettir’s role is assumed by that of Aidan Wilson who, like his forebear, does not always get along well with others and partakes in numerous instances of urban violence. A multitude of characters come and go, in proper Norse fashion, and it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is who, but readers familiar with the original will readily recognize the key plot points as Aidan evolves from unruly lad to local hero to inebriated outcast. It’d be inappropriate to divulge any specific details, but I particularly found the encounter with Glam in this rendition to be much more unsettling than in the original. And Aidan/Grettir’s last stand was perfectly updated for our media-frenzied, digital world.
The book is written with a very heavy emphasis on informal British slang, but I condone that sort of thing. How else would you end up with a beauty of a passage like this: “It was the most vicious fight you ever saw in your life, but useless too because they were both already so badly hurt. It was a bit like watching two bull sea lions gouging lumps out of one another on the rocks off Argentina, except instead of David Attenborough watching from a safe distance there was Bartholomew slumped there losing his vital signs in a pair of bloodstained Pumas.” Even if you’re not an acquaintance of Grettir’s, how can you go wrong with writing like that?
And last, but not least, some visual aids:
Park Hill Housing Estate in Sheffield, the sort of environment where Aidan Wilson spent most of his days. Compare to the image below…
Bjarg in Iceland, the sort of environment where Grettir the Strong spent most of his days. Call me biased, but I think Grettir got the better deal.