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Set in 2089, Walker Zupp’s debut novel Martha follows the story of Constable Harmon Chikenyyt as he plunges into a world of drugs, dealers, and pimps, while also following threads in a Belgium that teeters on the brink of civil war and a strange lab in Antarctica. Opening the novel, we arrive in a world that is similar to our own but radically different at the same time – Scotland is independent, new drugs are rampant, and corruption is around every corner.
The eclectic cast of characters is fascinating. We’re introduced to a man with a 42-inch penis who lectures in quantum physics, King George VII, who has a passion for music, and a hip-hop artist named Dickeater. There are many, many more characters, each serving their purpose to build Zupp’s world of sex, violence and drug use.
Martha covers many topics, from sex and death to race and gender. The prose is experimental and seemingly disjointed – but everything is connected. Each scene builds upon the last, and where the jumps are jarring is when the biggest impression is made. Sometimes the writing shifts to the second person, a strangely effective choice that makes the reader a part of the novel.
Zupp focuses on the LGBTQ+ community throughout the novel, introducing us to the world’s politics when a gay wedding is crashed in Belgium, leading to a heart-pounding chase scene. It draws a parallel to today, where same-sex weddings are still picketed and protested. There is a mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ rally, and the Prime Minister opts for gender reassignment surgery to secure votes. The Prime Minister’s team callously discuss intervening in Belgium to save LGBTQ+ refugees purely as a way to win votes – a strategy that does not seem out of place in this day and age.
Martha is strange, intriguing, and deeply satirical. Every choice Zupp makes the story odd, compelling, and funny, throwing in twists and turns culminating in a dark ending that will stick with you for a while.