"Hello, Billy, teatime! Gruts for tea!- Billy! Billy! Come on, son. Gruts for tea! Fresh Gruts!"
It’s difficult to describe Ivor Cutler to someone who’s never heard of him. He writes poems, but he’s not strictly a poet. He’s released several albums, but he’s not just a musician. You could call him a humorist, but that’s a term that does no justice to the multitude of his works that are more bittersweet and touching. He’s all of these things and none of them. He’s…well, he’s just Ivor Cutler and you either get him or you don’t.
Gruts, is a collection of Cutler’s short stories and by short stories, I mean short stories, most of them are less than a page long. They’re all funny, but few contain traditional setups or punchlines. Instead, their humour comes from the vague descriptions, the unexplained twists and absurd concepts. Imagine a joke book written by Salvador Dali and you’d be in the right area.
The book is illustrated by Martin Honeysett and he’s the perfect match for Cutler’s prose. His drawings are detailed and disturbing and he does a great job of putting visions of Cutler’s surreal tales on the page.
My favourite stories are the ones with a hint of darkness about them, be it The Hoogri House, a restaurant manned by strange mechanical men and an aggressive wheel-footed waiter, the woman who sends her son to the shop for Egg meat, which she feeds to a packet of carnivorous eggs she keeps in her drawer, or the story which lends the book it’s title, Gruts for Tea in which a father and son dine on Gruts, A mysterious and horrible substance that withers their bodies and might poison the dog, but which is the best food available in the woods in which they live.
Sadly however, Gruts fails to grasp me the way many of Cutler’s other works do. It’s a personal preference but I prefer it when his work contains a good helping of both the surreal and the normal. Books like Life in a Scottish Sitting Room Vol. 2 do a great job of creating weird tales that are also grounded in reality and play on stereotypes of Scotland in the way that only Cutler can.
Here however, that grounding is almost entirely absent, and, while it does show its head in stories like Letter from a Granny or The Greasy Button, these instances are few and far between.
I still love this book though, and over the near fifteen years it’s resided in the family home I have picked it up and read it cover to cover with glee multiple times. If you’re interested in getting in to Ivor Cutler it’s a great place to start, it’s just not my favourite.