Published on May 6th, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley0
Waiting for Godalming – Robert Rankin
I’ve never spent so much time wondering if a writer is mad or not. Nor for that matter, the protagonist.
The fact that Psychological thrillers are one of my favourite genres of book, film, TV and videogames is what makes the former statement so frighteningly ironic. That a comedy fantasy novel could aspire to create such an enduring and perplexing doubt for the duration of it is somewhat of a mystery, when so many Fight Clubs fail to hit the desired mark.
Waiting for Godalming is a comedy fantasy novel about a seemingly bumbling, yet apparently the world’s best detective, Lazlo Woodbine, who, after God’s disappearance is tasked with finding him, by God’s wife, also active, is Icarus Smith, a lowly thief who justifies his activities in the belief that he is only ‘replacing’ items as according to a divine purpose which only he knows. After a rather unfortunate theft, Smith is hounded by an organisation known as the ‘Ministry of Serendipity’.
Written by Robert Rankin, Waiting for Godalming was published in 2000, and presumably due to his being British and having a sense of humour, appears to have been mostly marketed as appealing to Terry Pratchett fans, despite Rankin having been in the authoring business since before even the Discworld series was begun.
Unlike Pratchett however, Rankin’s humour is much more absurdist, surreal and metafictional, Lazlo Woodbine is depicted as a very unreliable narrator and often partakes in ridiculous rituals in order to adhere to being a ‘traditional 1950’s detective’, such as: only being present in 4 locations, (his detective office taking cases, in a bar talking toot, in an alleyway having a shootout or being on a rooftop showdown) using a Smith & Wesson and drinking only a certain brand of scotch.
The plot exists mostly as a means to deliver the humour as there are a lot of moments where the prose diverts attention quite wildly away from the situation or moving the story forward, in order to digress and speak of some witty whimsy. A novel such as this uses irony as a kind of badge of honour, where satire looks in and silliness looks back in a never-ending mirror of reflection, so you’re never quite sure if an event was meant to be taken seriously or not, yet the plot moves on.
I enjoyed the humour in the book, looking at other reviews, I have noticed that different readers, have not, after all the humour is rather unusual, so it might be said that the comedy is of a particular taste, not perhaps a refined or Wilde-ian, nor are laughs created of the belly-aching sort but instead induce a warm chuckley kind that one might outwardly describe as ‘hearty’.
There’s always a difficulty I find in reviewing books like this, to approach it in a serious tone sounds mocking and prudish, and to attempt to be humourous or light-hearted often results in catastrophic failure and one worries that any readers might confuse my poor sense of humour with the novel that I am banging on about. Please don’t.
Outside of comical elements, Waiting does a good show of de-constructing the detective fiction genre as well as other archetypes and cinematic tropes used in adventure/mystery films. There are some brilliant and attentive literary techniques used also, such as the end of a chapter or section following a character using a similar action or word as the beginning of the next chapter.
I have read a few fantasy comedy novels now, and I can easily say this is one of my favourites so far, gloriously told and a pleasure to read, I look forward to reading more by Rankin, or so my guardian Sprout, Barry, tells me.
PS – The banner image is from Alice on Mars, which has an Indiegogo going on for a film at the moment.