This is a book that creeps up on you, abruptly pokes you from behind, and when you look round, it’s jumping up and down and pulling a silly face. Then it tells you a joke. Then it looks serious and hands you a plate full of all the irrational political decisions you’ve ever made… just before it bundles you into a horsedrawn cart, stuffs you under a nun’s habit, and gallops off.
It’s wearing the thinly painted garments of a detective story – a mysterious murder, no obvious suspect, unless there are dozens of them, an underlying conspiracy, a couple of inept (or are they?) private detectives tasking themselves with finding out who is responsible. How long it takes you to notice this will depend on a lot of things – but by the time the lead detective, pondering on the terrible fate of the decapitated nun, discovered in a pool of blood, sagaciously declares it to be a case of ‘temporary suicide’, you will know that you’re not in an episode of Inspector Morse. And when the nun in question, apparently resurrected and unable to stop dancing, starts to foment a revolution, you will certainly understand that you left terra firma behind long ago, and you are just going to have to take the alternative reality as it comes.
It’s gleefully irreverent and absurd, which gives license to all sorts of inappropriateness that might not otherwise be tolerated – I didn’t feel comfortable with the cheap stereotyping of gay male hairdressers for example, and the silly names grated after a while, like school-boy humour. When the book eventually sets you down and lets you go back to your humdrum existence, you may feel you’ve been assaulted – but if so, you may calm yourself with the epilogue which offers a kind of apology, and, in retrospect, a map of where you’ve been taken.