Saturday 11 March 2023


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Rat King Landlord by Murdoch Stephens  {Reviewed by STELLA}

I’m re-reading Rat King Landlord in tabloid format complete with illustrations — it’s the Renters United! edition. Bravo, publishers Lawrence & Gibson! We are giving away a copy with every book order

Here’s my review of the paperback edition (2020):

Ever wanted a crash course in Marxist theory, class structure, exploitation and capitalist advantage through property ownership, but found the reading a little too onerous? Well, then this novel is for you. Rat King Landlord, newly out of the excellent Lawrence & Gibson stable from the pen of Murdoch Stephens, is a satire that places you squarely in the continuing saga of our housing crisis — specifically the rental dilemma. Looked for a flat in Wellington lately; lived in an overpriced damp and mouldy house with strange flatmates and yet stranger landlord? — you need to look no further than here for a slice of almost-truth. Meet our flatmate, getting up early to make coffee in his haze of infatuation for Freddie, before she heads to work at the hip Broviet Brunion cafe located at the edgy end of the city, while flattie number three, Caleb, sleeps on, or whatever else he does, behind his closed door. So typical flatting life? Think again! Everyone wants to get on the property ladder, including the rats. Maligned and misunderstood, the rats are taking back the yard and the house. They are no longer content to live off your scraps while avoiding your traps. Rats have rights too! At the same time, strange posters are popping up all over the city advertising an event unlike any other — The Night of the Smooth Stones. Unauthorised and taking over billboard space owned by a corporate in cahots with the council, the posters resist being painted over or torn down. The message is oblique and the word on the street — well, on social media and in the huddled conversations of the politically leveraged hipsters — is that a revolution is about to hit the streets. Targets: property agents (loud hiss), landlords (hiss) and house owners (half-hearted small hiss). While the street is heating up, at home the temperature is rising too. The human landlord has died falling off a shonky ladder and his will results in the ownership of the house ending up in the hands (paws) of the Rat — the last being to witness him alive. Don’t even think about being animalist. As the Rat adjusts to his newfound status, learning English through texting (specifically with Caleb — the reclusive — who has an odd fascination with his Rat associate and an employer/employee relationship in due course — one that favours him over his flatmates), upgrading his shed, and making a slippery agreement to get himself into the house as a flatmate/landlord (alarm bells!), our protagonist becomes more agitated by the situation. Fire in the backyard, vigilantes on the street, pseudo-rebellion in the streets — who’s a landlord and who’s a renter? Have you got proof of your status or lack of? And the nights of rebellion just keep getting stranger. Who's behind the call to arms, and why is Freddie's boss acting weird? Rat King Landlord is a hilarious trip with a serious underbelly. Shitty houses, rip-off rents, exploitative agencies and landlords funded by the structure of the capitalist system fueling the beast we call the housing market. Satisfying satire — mad, fast-paced and audacious. 

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