|One of the great things about|
being me, the Devil said, is I don't
have to do anything at all.
In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time.
However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Scarlett Thomas novels I avoided for purely aesthetic reasons for a number of years before overcoming the prejudice. I completely missed the snake. In themselves, these symbols signified something which brought about an atavistic aversion. I'm not sure if this is a trend in publishing design, but I trust it will pass.
Regardless, I was happy to overlook my own ridiculous peccadillo and crack on.
It's classic EmEmEss. There's an unreliable narrator, there's a strange and unpredictable narrative, there are outlandish and yet perfectly acceptable plot devices and characters, and there are twists aplenty. There's also a strange avuncular feeling about the narration, something of which I was dimly aware until I read in another review that it was a little like a bed-time story. This is due in no small part because it appears to be told by Hannah's nomadic grandfather, whose own part in the grander tale (and his unlikely and particularly un-mundane history) is only revealed as a result of Hannah leaving her depressed and divorced father to stay with him. In essence, it's about the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, the purity of our blank white futures tainted by our subjective and corrupted inks, to borrow unrepentantly a Twitter bio. Hannah thinks her life is dull and monotonous, its only deviation the confusing separation of her parents and her slow alienation from them as they each dealt (poorly) with the situation. However, she soon meets a four-foot-tall talking mushroom and has a grand adventure alongside the Archfiend himself, all the while in pursuit of those spectral figures looking to subvert the profane machine her grandfather built–wait! what?–two hundred years ago!
I must say that in terms of dark humour, the likes of which graced his other more sci-fi novels, particularly with the talking appliances and wry, often bitter commentary, here it is more akin to some of the slapstick of Christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping. Not a bad thing you should understand, just different. It's a great introduction to a very good writer indeed, and will inspire you to pick up his backlist. Just don't hold your breath waiting for the next one, eh?
*Yeah, I know it probably looks like no Alexander McCall-Smith cover EVER but it evokes the same curdled biliousness as the sight of his Scotland Street novels on the shelf. No idea why.