Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Waiting For Godalming

Waiting for Godalming
By Robert Rankin

Corgi, 2001

There is no way on Earth I would ever consciously choose to read this book or any book like it. But, when a very attractive and intelligent woman, only minutes after giving some of the best oral sex a man will ever have in his life, says, “Will you read this book?” the correct answer is “Yes.” Because I’m a bogan. So I read it.

It belongs to a very very nerdy corner of the book world that I label ‘Comic fantasy’. It's a genre as alien to me as Nicaraguan Modern Jazz. Now, coming from a diet of miserable European 19th century realist novelists as I do, I tend to avoid any novel in the ‘comic’ or ‘fantasy’ section of a bookstore. This one is both, so it’s a double whammy, but like I said, the chick was hot.

Every single fucking line of the book was ‘funny’. As the very attractive and intelligent woman put it, “Like ‘Flying High’”. That’s not to say I laughed at every line. In fact, I only laughed at about five lines. The humour comes at a cracking pace, so much so that Rankin lets the storyline, complex as it is, degenerate to the point of irrelevancy.

This book is about the gags, not the story, though the story is quite loaded. It includes a ghost-seeing machine, the murder of God (who looks like Richard E. Grant), evil hairdressers, Devils on the Earth, God’s illegitimate children, insurance fraud, Jewish virgins, an ongoing satirical dig at cliché-driven spy thrillers and lots of London cabbie in-jokes.

It’s somewhere between ‘Flying High’ and ‘Carry On Heaven’.

Rankin has an audience. He must do, there’s heaps of his books available, and I can see why people like him. He’s harmless. He’s funny. He’s cute. He’s lighter than a feather, and you can read his book on a plane or in the never-never land of ‘almost asleep but I’ll just finish this chapter’.

The jokes slide over the reader with ease. Thinking is optional. For example:

Fangio seemed lost for words. ‘I’m lost for words,’ he said.

You got it? That’s the gag. And they’re everywhere.

Here’s another one that features heavily; the gag where Rankin gives an insight into his writing process.

But let us now return to Icarus Smith, who is about to have a little action. A great deal of action, as it happens.
But no.
Let us not return to Icarus just yet. Let us instead return to Lazlo Woodbine...

“Hahahahahaha! Hilarious. The writer is inviting us into his process of structuring the narrative, but here’s his genius: He actually does know what he’s doing but he just pretends he doesn’t for the sake of the gag! Hahahahahahah!”



The best scenes were the ones involving the detective who referred to ‘dames’ and wore a trenchcoat. He insisted on his life being a cliché, even insisting that the book ends with a shootout on a rooftop. He made me smirk on occasion.

My biggest laugh was his description of his favourite pub; a ‘proper’ pub...

It served proper flat ale in proper dirty glasses. Had proper full ashtrays... There was proper unswept lino on the floor and proper unmopped vomit in the gents. There was a proper one man band called Johnny G who performed there on a Tuesday night. And proper drunken louts who threw proper light ale bottles at him when he did.

Well, maybe it’s not that funny after all. I did giggle a few times through the book, but really, I was mainly waiting for it to end. The last four chapters were shit.

The shame of it all is that the storyline, fractured as it was, could have been more gripping if he could have just toned down on the constant gags. Sometimes, situations are funny enough that they don’t need to be sullied by a cheap wordplay, or another joke that was the same as the four on the page before it.

Having said that, it would make for a funny movie. And that’s where a story like this belongs – on a screen. Not on a bookshelf.

All in all, it was okay. I suppose. Maybe a bit less than okay. It gave me something to do.

I give it a C Minus.

And now that I've just finished one absurdist comic fantasy, on to another absurdist comic fantasy... the second half of Genesis.