Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Preincarnate by Shaun Micallef

The other day, when in Melbourne to see the Tutankhamen exhibit, I happened upon a bookstore in the throes of a closing-down sale. The carcass had been mostly picked clean by the time I got there, but I did manage to walk away with one bargain.

The first thing I want to say about Preincarnate is that, physically, it is exactly what you look for in a book. Nice, simple hardcover, with that lovely feel to it that only newish hardcovers seem to have. Bound bookmark. Ex Libris in the front. The fact that it's glue-bound but made to look stitch-bound is a slight disappointment, but hey - we can’t have everything.

The story itself is about a man who is murdered in 2005, only to be reincarnated back in 1657 in someone else’s body, and who subsequently tries to have himself preserved until such time as he can prevent his own murder from occurring in the first place. That sentence alone probably gives you some idea of how convoluted the storyline is, and this is even before you take into account the parts in intervening centuries, or the part on the spaceship in the future (no, seriously). This isn’t a serious attempt to grapple with the logical and metaphysical implications of time travel, as is often the case in sci-fi - but nor is it supposed to be. Micallef has basically just used the time travel/reincarnation structure so he can poke fun at sci-fi tropes, modern pop culture and historical fiction all in the one book.

And thankfully, this is exactly what Micallef does well. I know he doesn’t appeal to everyone but the man has a direct line to my funny bone - that perfect mixture of pop culture, high-mindedness, dry sarcasm and utter absurdity. I don’t want to give away any of the funny scenes but the exchanges between Micallef and his purported editor in the footnotes of several chapters are hilarious. I did get some rather strange looks, giggling away to myself on the train home from Melbourne, but - so worth it. If you like Micallef’s comedy on TV you’ll like it here - no two ways about it.

Now, admittedly, it does sag a bit in the middle, and the end is slightly anticlimactic, which I suppose are probably symptoms of the fact that this is Micallef’s first novel. The Tom Cruise jokes, too, seemed a little too trite, and while they would have been very topical when Micallef was writing it in the mid-00s, a mere year after publication they are starting to fall flat.

But overall it is a very funny book, and the contrivances of the plot are so well lampshaded with humour that it doesn’t really bother you. Definitely give it a look.

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