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Book Review / Barely in Time

Poor Danny Maelstrom is a foreigner in his own country. Having lost his parents as a baby, and after the inconvenience of them changing their nationality not too long before in a plan to make a new life, it meant he was left alone, in Ruritania with his grandma, and is now working as a Junior IT Technician. IT... Poor, poor Danny. Not only that, he's then introduced by his boss to what seems like some crazy Englishman named Mr Boylett, and to who he is ordered to be host of sorts. Boylett turns out to be a bit eccentric, but Danny rarely ever gets excitement so embraces it. Then Boylett disappears, leaving his old laptop behind, and Danny, entirely out of character, decides to use it to get in touch with Boylett's professor friend in a sort of private investigation, worried for his new friend. Then, when Boylett returns unexpectedly, he regales the young man with an extraordinary tale of his explorations regarding a secret facility, and Danny is truly plunged into a strange world of time-bending science, strange history, the burgeoning of love in a new land, and a hilarious village elder.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this book nor what magificent webs might be weaved...woven? Firstly, the style suits the story impeccably. As suggested by the very first line the book (well second, actually) it is set against the literary backdrop of Pantagruel, that is (according to the almighty Wikipedia) "written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein; features much erudition, vulgarity, and wordplay; and is regularly compared with that of Shakespeare and James Joyce". So there you have it - and I'll add some of the best dystopias (or utopias) have this style too, so that was always going to get my vote, if I believed voting matters. And does the author piffle with us on this promise? Certainly not. Indeed, he has exquisite command of such a style to the point you have to wonder if he hadn't been party to the secret experimentation within himself...


In all seriousness, I am just astonished at the unrelenting loyalty throughout the whole book to the preservation of the erudite and satirical, and the somewhat uptight narrator (no offence, Author ;D). It does deserve a big clap all for itself, being at once hilarious, excessive, mind-bending, and an utter romp - a kind of magnificence all of its own. Though don't be fooled in thinking this is light-reading; those who like a bit of hard scientific thinking in their satire won't be disappointed. I really enjoyed the sudden brain demand of the explanation of the science of affecting time (not time travel or other such overblown nonsense, be assured!), and though scientific theory doesn't overwhelm the narrative, it certainly sets a specific theme, leaving the opportunity for the author to - in one specific case - if but momentarily, present a hopeful, and indeed terrifically poignant moment in Danny's life, awash on the seas of the known, the unknown, and the may never know, all at once, and yet, satisfactorily. Bit mysterious, but I don't want to spoil it, eh?

Danny's journey from being outcast, tech lackey, to marvellous adventurer-type, with burgeoning lovey-doveyness, and eccentric friends and whatnot, is lots of fun, filled with exuberant characters, flamboyant characters, sinister characters, and the hilariously lifelike (considering our modern era) such as Miss Oswald. I also loved the interjections of the narrator, who was a character all in him/itself (it could have been the time machine for all I know...goodness gracious, was it the time machine?). Danny was sweet and perceptive, smart, but still adapting to the strange circumstance, and the contrast with the short-tempered, sarcastic, particular, and of course erudite overseer, ensured anything that Danny (or anyone else for hat matter!) wasn't quite sure to share, was certainly shared anyway.

I enjoyed all the characters, which were bold and brightly realised; Mr Boylett's very Englishness and fondness for eating, Veronica's boldness and straightforward nature, Andy Gs Andy G-ness (and all the following that entails...), and Victor's tortured artist eccentrism. But my favourite of all the characters in the book was Miss Oswald, who in real life I should dislike exceedingly for her fundamental (and recognisable) hypocrisy, but in this book it was just endless sources of amusement because I've known people like her. If somehow - somehow, indeed - you are still at a loss whilst reading in seeking out the amusingly extravagant and satirical vein then look no further than her.

Of all the characters in the book, I think this one should get her own spin-off (to be honest, there might already be some crazy TV show with this character out there already...) . Having emerged from a seriously religious background, and desperate to make her mark on the skin on everyone, especially all the men, and literally...she now professes openly to be an ardent vegetarian lesbian, uncordially slaughtering the choices of other people with her anti-meat agenda, and showing off her various female arm candy to everyone or thing that would take notice. This is, of course, whilst gorging on eggs and bacon and kippers in private, and thumbing through her well-read Tom of Finland magazine, which comprises absolutely not of hot young women (and if you don't know what ToF is, I pray you don't Google at first using just images, if you are a delicate soul, XD). Her character was so overwhelmingly strong in the narrative that this book could easily have been stolen by her against the author's wishes, but the yin-yang relationship with Danny, and whose paths cross for but a few moments, means destiny has something different in store for Miss Oswald.

Reading something historically tied, which echoes the heavy mistakes of past human choices, but which also provides us with the utterances of modernity in the smart phones and laptops and expensive cameras and such, created the perfect atmosphere of being somewhere not quite where we expect, but somewhere we mostly recognise, and that's not quite out of time, but also not quite in it. It makes a change to step back and laugh at stuff that in this day and age could (and are) certainly be treated over-seriously. It was a cleverly and attentively crafted book, and one of those I will likely read again just to really relish in the feel of it, and almost, but not quite, dip into a past time, but not really. I certainly look forward to reading more by this author.

And that village elder though, XD.


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