Robinson turns somewhere seemingly inert into an absolute horror of social anxiety.
I’m pretty sure we all have those books which would fall into a ‘books I would rescue in a fire’ category. Paranoia in the Launderette by Bruce Robinson is definitely one of these for me. This chokingly funny mini-novella is a concentrated portrait of an anxiety-ridden writer whose irrational fears have become magnified since researching serial killers for his proposed series of TV plays called Decades of Death. Convinced they are back and lurking in and about his flat, he carries a knife and sleeps upright at night with both arms out in an ‘enthusiastic fascist salute’. Things get bad when a call from his literary agent about a meeting at short notice with a Very Important Man regarding his TV treatment, forces him out of the house. The problem is, he has nothing to wear. Not just nothing to wear, but absolutely nothing clean. Just a black binbag of clothes which haven’t seen the light of day, let alone suds, in at least six months. After attempting various hilarious alternatives, it soon becomes clear he must GO TO THE LAUNDERETTE.
Launderettes are like nowhere else; the unwritten rules of behaviour, the complicated workings of the machinery, the terrifying ‘regulars’ akin to those down the local pub… It’s a genius choice of setting for the unravelling of a man on the edge. Robinson turns somewhere seemingly inert into an absolute horror of social anxiety. Still scarred by a previously traumatic launderette experience, the self-induced pressure over every decision he is forced to make only increases the chances of him cocking them up, inevitably causing him to spiral into a succession of ludicrous behaviours which can only be perceived by the other launderers in this soapy arena as the actions of an insane madman.
Anyone familiar with Bruce Robinson’s work will find common motifs; the humour deriving from squalored living, such as the washing up scene in Withnail & I, are easily referenced with those of the protagonist here, notably as he attempts to dry socks in the oven. Also, the real life obsession of Robinson with serial killers which led, after fifteen years of research, to his recent book on the identity of Jack the Ripper They All Love Jack, would have begun around the time of publishing this back in 1998.
Interestingly, the story was loosely adapted into a film in 2012 titled A Fantastic Fear of Everything starring Simon Pegg. Co-directed by Crispian Mills of Kula Shaker-fame, I’ll let you make your own judgements from the trailer, though I now feel like I must see it, regardless.
At only 43 pages long, the book can be read in 20 minutes. I would beg steal or borrow a copy if you can. Certainly not mine though. That reminds me, I really must get around to putting my fire books together so I’m not in a flap should an emergency strike. Nothing paranoid about that…