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Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation

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There’s a megalomaniac professor digging a hole outside his flat. His small stake in the amphetamine market in Brixton is being threatened by a mysterious Chinese man. And the Milk Marketing Board has taken out a contract on his life. Welcome to the bizarre, obsessive world of Alby Starvation.
Alby’s doctor refuses to believe he’s allergic to just about everything (which he is), especially milk. But when Alby soon discovers that his ongoing ailments are directly linked to the ...

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Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation

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There’s a megalomaniac professor digging a hole outside his flat. His small stake in the amphetamine market in Brixton is being threatened by a mysterious Chinese man. And the Milk Marketing Board has taken out a contract on his life. Welcome to the bizarre, obsessive world of Alby Starvation.
Alby’s doctor refuses to believe he’s allergic to just about everything (which he is), especially milk. But when Alby soon discovers that his ongoing ailments are directly linked to the consumption of said product, he gives it up and is cured. Only thing is, he goes on to suggest this remedy to a number of other people suffering from milk allergies. In Millar’s surreal backyard, the Milk Marketing Board sees sales slump to an alltime low. So there’s only one thing left to do: put out a contract on Alby Starvation. Now Alby must save both his life and his precious comic collection.
In Martin Millar’s surreal tale of the urban counterculture—a world full of shoplifting, deaththreats, paranoia, and video game arcades—Alby’s frantic struggle to avoid being shot falls somewhere between Irvine Welsh and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

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Editorial Reviews

Jim Krusoe
Milk is a giddy journey, an amusement park ride, an enchantment like "A Midsummer Night's Dream"…It's right on that edge between youth and wisdom, cute and serious, words and pictures. If you are the type of person who doesn't like books that announce they're weighty, then read this one; you'll like it. If you read only serious and weighty books, give yourself a break and pick this up. It will remind you of your youth—or somebody's.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A neurotic British hypochondriac is at the center of Millar's frenetic, eccentric novel, first published in the U.K. in 1987. "[R]agged" paranoid Alby Starvation barely makes ends meet in his career dealing speed in Brixton, and he's constantly suffering from intense stomach pain. When he determines the cause of his internal discomfort is a severe allergy to milk, he creates a media firestorm about how milk could be "potentially poisonous." Dairy sales plummet and the Milk Marketing Board takes out a contract on Alby's head. Enter lonesome hit woman June, who apparently isn't the only person gunning for Alby: a cryptic Chinese man with a hidden agenda has it in for Alby, too. Calamity ensues as Alby becomes intimate with June and begins to fear he may have contracted AIDS. The dizzying array of characters and perspectives whips Millar's madcap story into a potent blitz that runs at full throttle through the satisfying conclusion. Fans of Irvine Welsh will love Millar's singularly entertaining tale of suspicious minds. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593762278
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/6/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,145,137
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

milk, sulphate, and alby starvation

By martin millar
Soft Skull Press
Copyright © 2008

Martin Millar
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59376-227-8

Chapter One Jesus Christ what a fucking wreck I am, my face looks a hundred years old, people would scream if I went out on the streets, my hair's all falling out, there's a woman from the Milk Marketing Board trying to kill me. She learns my address, that's it, I'm dead.

So I'm sitting taping David Rodigan's reggae show from the radio and plotting how to sell my comics without getting killed. With capital from the comics I can buy studio time to make a record which will be just great, or else buy a gun to kill the woman who's got the contract on me. Also with a gun I could take militant steps to corner the sulphate market in Brixton. I mean, just because that man who threatened me was Chinese doesn't mean he was from a Triad, does it? I'm not scared of him, I mean, why would a Triad be interested in the minimal profit in Brixton sulphate?

All over this flat there are mirrors, big, small, in every position. I'm trying to avoid them.

There's a Chinese man walking confidently around Soho. Actually he comes from Hong Kong. He's buying food and looking round at the sunshine and giving some small thought to some business he has in south London. Mostly though he's just walking round being pleased with himself.

I could sit here all night.


I got a pain in my guts.

Maybe it would go away if I ate something but I don't want to get fat. If someone came visiting maybe I could get a cigarette off them, I've given up smoking and it's so fucking boring I don't want to talk about it.

I didn't mean to aggravate the Milk Marketing Board, I mean, I never wanted all that publicity in the first place. I was just trying to be helpful. How was I to know they would end up with their poorest ever May sales figures since they began keeping records?

I was really ill some time ago. I don't want to imply that I'm well now, just that then I was a lot worse.

My doctor really loathes me. Every time I go to see him he talks to me with open contempt, he's putting on a front that he thinks I'm a hypochondriac but really he knows I'm sick and he enjoys seeing me suffer. Upper-class bastard, what's he doing being a doctor in this area if he hates us? Bastard.

June was trained by the Brazilian secret police and now she works in Britain as a hired killer. She has a one hundred percent success record and a good reputation for discretion. That is, no one ever sees her killing her target, no one ever knows anything about her work and no one finds more than a corpse with a bullet in it, well sometimes more than one bullet, she's not a purist and doesn't mind pumping in a few if it seems necessary. But generally she shoots her victim with a silenced automatic in some quiet place and everything is fine for all concerned, for her, for her client and for her booking agent.

At this moment she is cutting her hair in front of a small mirror on the kitchen table. She always cuts her own hair and she does it well but if she made a mistake and ended up with some hideously uneven mess it wouldn't trouble her too much.

She doesn't have to kill people all that often because the pay is good and she is not greedy. She has never worked for the Milk Marketing Board before.

Well, selling these comics is a formidable task because for one thing there are an awful lot of them and short of hiring a truck, which I can't afford, how am I going to get them up to the comic shop? And when I do get them there (Why won't that wretched fucker in the shop come down here and value them? Not that I'd tell him my address anyway in case that hitwoman tortured him to find it out. But he won't come anyway.) how do I know that they won't try to rip me off? Bastards.

I mean, my comics are worth thousands of pounds but if the owner of the shop knows I'm desperate for money he's bound to make me some cheap offer, I'll take them off your hands as a friendly gesture, that sort of thing. Maybe I could threaten him with my gun. No, I can't get the gun till I get the money from selling the comics.

I could check the prices in the trade book but I don't know if the general public are allowed to look at it. And there is always the possibility that the shop might only want to buy a selected few of my collection and I'm sure not going to all this trouble hiring trucks to get up there and back and then them only buying a few, bastards. I can tell already that I'm gonna get done, I can sense these things coming. This comic shop owner better watch out or he's gonna end up with a bullet in his back.

Maybe I could hold up the comic shop instead and steal their valuable comics. That would teach them a lesson.

I like comics, especially Conan and Spiderman.

The Chinese man is a fairly mysterious character, and not just because he's Chinese. At one time he was involved in heroin quality control in the southern corner of the Golden Triangle in Burma.

After a power struggle in which the warlord he served was mown down along with his still loyal bodyguards, he fled through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam into Australia and from there to the United States. All the way through he bought his safety out of the vast profits he'd made in the heroin industry.

He had friends in the USA but he didn't stay. He moved to Britain, for reasons that are not clear.

Now he pretends to earn his living by teaching Chinese. But in reality he has only one pupil and even she is an employee of his. He earns his money from illegal activities. The teaching Chinese is a front to fool investigative reporters. In between his origins in Hong Kong and his work in Burma he learned Wing Chun kung fu and he is deadly efficient in its practice.

He has contacts and family friends in London. Much drug trade goes through him already, much profitable and important business.

He is anxious to get in touch with a small-time sulphate dealer in Brixton.

The speakers on the record player don't work properly, or maybe it's the amplifier that doesn't work, anyway the bass won't come over loud enough and how can I play reggae if the bass won't come over loud enough?

Wha this.

Wha that.

Papa Sinbad a chat.

An' me nice up the area murderer!

An' the roots an' culture murderer!

This poverty is real suffering you know, nothing in the flat works and I look about a hundred and fifty. If I was rich or even well off I wouldn't look so old, rich people never seem to look so bad when they get old. How did I get to be twenty-six anyway? I mean, what happened?

Imagine getting injured somehow and your skull is split open and you have to hold it together till help arrives and if you take your hands away from your head it falls apart. I'd hate that.

In Leeds there is a chemical explosion in a Boots factory. There is no danger to local residents but police advise car owners to wash their cars as a precaution and I'm waiting with interest to see what gruesome deformities result.

I was really ill a while ago, I was going blind and my skin was fading into a washed-up yellow long-dead-vegetation colour.

Every time I got an attack my eyes would close up a little more and my skin would shrink and fade, I'd stumble and crawl down the road to the doctor, hurting inside where my organs were straining to get out and he'd look me straight in my puffed-up mixamatosis face and tell me I was suffering from nerves.

"But doctor," I'd croak, "my insides are fighting to get out and my skin looks like an old newspaper and my left eye has completely closed up and there's blood seeping out of the right one and I haven't been able to keep down food for four days and I feel sick even when I get better."

"That's all right, it's just your nerves, I see lots like you." He'd look at me in contempt.

"But I'm going blind."

"Learn to relax."

Next time I get a bad attack I go back. The receptionist reels in horror when she sees me. I stagger into the doctor's room and collapse onto the floor and start sobbing and whimpering.

He prescribes me some valium. He writes the prescription like he's never wasted so much time in his whole life.

I wonder if I'll be reincarnated after this crazed gun-woman shoots me, I'd be dead already if I hadn't got that tip-off. I wish I could be reincarnated with my memories intact, in which case I could probably manage my life instead of completely fucking it up, lie in a cot for a couple of years with nothing to do but plan out my strategy for when I start to walk.

I'm going round taking the polythene off the windows in case I have to make a quick escape. I don't know if it kept the heat in but it sure made a lot of noise. Anyway I don't want this killer bursting in waving a meat axe or machine gun or whatever she's going to do the business with and me trying to fling myself out of the window in one last desperate bid for freedom and bouncing back off the securely-stuck-on seasonal double-glazing.

Perhaps I should move again. But what would I do about my comics?

Down in Brixton the youth are shambling through the streets wondering where their next drug is coming from. The sun is shining and nobody seems too troubled by anybody else and through the market music pulses out of many record shacks and the atmosphere is generally that of being quite a nice place to live.

Fran and Julie like living here, they share the lower floor of a reasonable squat with a front door like Fort Knox and a million cats but quite a lot of drugs around with some food in between and hair dye in brilliant colours no trouble to get and music everywhere and a good cinema that doesn't spend all its time showing meathead films, a women's self-defence class, the dole office close by, poverty but isn't everyone. Not a bad life right now. Fran picks at a guitar and wonders where Alby Starvation is, he ought to have arrived with their speed by now.

What a fucking pain, she thinks, if I have to go on stage tonight without speeding, I'll never manage it, I wonder if anyone in the street's got any food?

In the next room Julie practices self-defence, aiming knee-high kicks at a chair. Smash someone in the knee, her instructor tells her, and they won't want to bother you again for a while.

This is good advice providing you don't miscalculate because then they will really be mad and kill you.

Julie practices against the chair.

So there I was getting sicker and sicker and my pig of a doctor, a misnomer if ever there was one, deliberately refused to help me.

At the time I'm wondering if he's got some ulterior motive like maybe he's in league with the Chinese man from Soho. Or maybe he's after my comics, that's it, he's probably secretly craving for my Silver Surfer No. 1 and hopes to get his hands on it after I'm dead, probably along the lines of representations to the executor of my estate, I cared for him all through the years of his terrible illness, don't auction his Silver Surfer collection, give them to me like he promised. Bastard.

One thing, though, I always make some sort of recovery from these bouts of illness, usually after passing out and waking up covered in vomit. I'm feeling a lot better, I drink some water and rest a while, wipe the blood from my eyes and ears and start to feel a bit like a human being. I manage a smile for the hamster, my only friend.

It never lasted though, as soon as I got better I got worse and it was always a little bit more unpleasant than the last time. Nobody's skin was ever that colour, it was ridiculous.

What a miserable time. I still feel bad thinking about it.

And now I'm sitting here in comparative health and fear. Tomorrow I intend to wing my way down to Brixton and deliver some sulphate to a few people for some pathetically small profit and I wonder why I do it particularly as half of China seems to be hot on my trail for god knows what reason and anyway I just seem to take most of it myself.

Two people of my acquaintance have been approached by this Chinese man, who gave them a close description of me and knew my name and displayed a disconcerting knowledge of my activities, asking where he could find me. Both of them lied, of course, and said they didn't know. What if he comes back and threatens them?

Look, why are all these people trying to kill me? What have I ever done to them? OK, so I don't have actual proof that this fiend of an oriental is trying to kill me but as it seems to be the norm these days I can only presume the worst.

Maybe he does belong to a Triad. Maybe I insulted them somehow, I got a comic that says that's a pretty bad thing to do. He wants to take over my business, I can tell. Bastard, why doesn't he leave me alone with my misery. Wait till I get a gun, I'll show them.

I'm tired. I'm gonna make a peanut butter and marmite sandwich and go to bed. I'm gonna barricade, bolt, and booby trap my bedroom door as protection from this woman from the Milk Marketing Board who's out to get me.

My guts hurt.

So why not ask your doctor to send you to hospital said one of my friends eventually.

It seems like a good idea so I go down painfully to the surgery when the next attack comes on and bleed a bit on the carpet. This doctor has a vile face and a voice like an old BBC newscaster.

"The hospital? But you'll be wasting your time, it's just your nerves."

I threaten to kill him there and then. He agrees to give me a letter to take to the hospital.

I drag myself down. In the street people are looking askance at my horribly diseased features. Shoppers cross the road to avoid me and small children start to cry as I pass. The wind blows and it feels like it's going to carry me away.

At the hospital I wait for hours and hours while the nurses whisper and talk about me behind my back. It seems to me that they must have shuffled my card to the bottom of the pile.

When they do tests and things they have the nerve to tell me there is nothing wrong.

Of course, I should have realised that these medical people would all stick together and that probably my doctor didn't write anything at all about my appalling symptoms in his letter but just a note saying they were to let me die so he could get his hands on my Silver Surfer No. 1.

By this time I'm almost completely blind and I'm hurting so much inside I can hardly bear to move.

All right, I think, I don't need them. I'll cure myself.

June has finished cutting her hair and her thoughts turn to her current contract. She has to kill some person in Brixton. He is called Alby Starvation. She does not know his address, which is unusual in her line of work, but he has moved recently and seems to be in hiding. But she knows she will find him easily enough. Taking her gun casually out of a drawer in the kitchen she sits down to clean it whilst eating some cereal. Tomorrow she hopes to complete the contract. She thinks briefly of her training in Brazil.

Fran wanders out to steal some food from Big Value stores.

The manager of Big Value is a bitter man. His career is stymied because his cat died of cancer. He knows that senior management don't trust him any more and won't promote him to a bigger store, how could we promote a man whose cat died of cancer? If he couldn't look after a cat properly what would he do with a major branch of Big Value?

Fran stuffs food into her pockets and leaves the shop. She smiles at the security guard. The security guard has other things on his mind.

Some reggae music floats past chuka chuka chuka as Fran drifts down the road with pockets full of food. Fran has cropped skinhead hair, mostly black with traces of green here and there. It never occurs to her that she might be caught stealing and she never is.

Tonight her band is playing a gig in a small hall close by, which is no big deal but might be fun or then again might not. Fran plays bass guitar, not very well but well enough.

She goes home to share her food with Julie. Julie completely lacks her talent for acquiring provisions though she is better at fighting.

John Peel plays a request for someone. It is a good record but I forget what it is. Well, how did it come about that they sent this killer after me?

I'm sick and dying (this is about six months ago), things are looking serious, the hamster looks concerned.

The roof of my flat is dirty white and scarred, it's repaired in three places, the results of past burglaries. People break into the communal loft that runs along the top of the block, walk over, then smash their way through the ceilings of the top-floor flats. I've not lived here for very long and I am constantly awaiting the arrival of a gang of thugs through my ceiling, probably as I sleep. They might only intend to burgle the flat but when they find me here they will kill me in some brutal fashion. They will have to kill me in case I identify them later. Even though I promise to keep my mouth shut, to not even call the police, they will still kill me because the leader of the gang is a sadistic monster who enjoys inflicting pain on nature's victims. Bastards, why don't you leave me alone?


Excerpted from milk, sulphate, and alby starvation by martin millar Copyright © 2008 by Martin Millar. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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