Written by the winner of the Dundee International Book Prize in 2000, Andrew Murray Scott’s third novel The Mushroom Club certainly bolsters his reputation of having a somewhat unusual approach to writing. The narrative is one of the ultimate mid-life crisis, centring around three friends from university, Emerson, Quinn and Edwards, who meet once a year to take magic mushrooms while reflecting on their own lives and the failures of society generally, as they yearn to live in an imagined paradise.
It is on their tenth meeting that the three friends find themselves discussing the unfairness of the world and ultimately deciding to take action against it. What follows is definitely an unusual yet exciting series of events. With Emerson and Quinn coming to the conclusion that the only way to reach their goal of pure happiness – that is to say, living on a beach without a care in the world – is to create a dirty bomb, Edwards, who serves as the novel’s narrator, finds himself begrudgingly swept along with their crazed, drug induced ideas. As he is travelling on the train he contemplates as to how he can either be an “outstanding citizen” or “Dave Edwards, secret Mushroom fiend and poisonous worm in the social apple”. It is this sort of imagery that Scott uses to enhance the story, making it twist and turn and ultimately ending with the question of what friendship truly is, and whether it can withstand such things as extortion and kidnapping. While some of the events that follow border on absolute ridiculousness, with adventures such as stealing collapsible wheelchairs and pinching a pacemaker from a living pensioner, Scott somehow successfully pulls it off in a charming and entertaining way that leaves the reader eager for more.
Although the style of writing, which has points where it feels more like pure dialogue, can be initially somewhat difficult to settle into, once you become comfortable with it the book is certainly an enjoyable read. The omniscient narrator effectively makes it feel as though you are trailing behind the three friends as they bumble through their haphazard adventures. Scott’s clever use of irony fuels the comedy throughout the novel, along with his somewhat dry sense of humour and Edwards’ way of making fun of himself and the situation he finds himself in. That said, the characters are not all likeable – Quinn in particular has a certain sense of entitlement which can begin to grate on you after a while. Although, as Edwards remarks at one point, “in their minds they were already master criminals” it is obvious that they are not meant to be entirely likeable. This successfully adds to the story however, in that you find yourself sympathising and subsequently rooting for Edwards, the more sympathetic narrator.
You would be forgiven for initially assuming that the book is another tale either advocating or demonising drug taking. However, The Mushroom Club successfully presents the drugs themselves in a matter of fact, almost casual, manner. Indeed, the actual drug taking is not deemed to be unusual, no doubt partially down to the fact that the three friends were students when they first met. It is somewhat refreshing to be faced with a novel that neither supports nor rejects the use of drugs, and Scott successfully presents the issue in a straightforward way that does not impede the storyline.
Overall, The Mushroom Club is an unusual, yet entertaining story. It could perhaps be said to try a little too hard to push the boat out to be seen as a strange and unique story. In many ways this merely reflects the drug that brought the three friends together in the first place. Quirky and surprising, it is without a doubt an enjoyable read that can at the very least open up some interesting discussions on its themes but which never takes itself too seriously.