tom robbins

Indirect Influence: What in God’s Name

It’s been a little while since I read something funny, and I’ve missed it.

There’s been a lot of chick lit, romance and a bit of crime fiction on the reading pile, but not since If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead have I read something quite as light-hearted as Simon Rich’s What in God’s Name (Allen and Unwin)…

From the Sunsets Department to Miracles, Heaven Inc. has the earth covered – unless, that is, someone is away from their desk. But these days, the CEO is kind of disillusioned. God knows he should be trying to stop terrible events happening on Earth, but he finds himself watching the church channels on satellite TV. His top priority is the team of angels he asked to get Lynyrd Skynyrd back together.

Meanwhile, Eliza has been promoted from the Prayers Department to Miracles, and Craig, the only other workaholic in Heaven, has to show her around. Eliza is shocked by the casual attitude of her new colleagues. And she’s furious when she discovers that God has never looked at, let alone answered, a single prayer. So she does something no one has ever dared to do before, and it could be the end of the world…

It’s a quick read, quirky and satirical. It’s also wonderfully clever. The story of Eliza and Craig is well-thought out. The tongue-in-cheek corporatisation of Heaven, complete with a disinterested, indulged CEO (i.e. God) is put together cleverly and the interactions between Heaven and Earth had me really engaged…

“He’d already completed several miracles this week and all of them were pretty cool.

In Portugal he broke a Ben and Jerry’s freezer, compelling the manager to give away his melting ice cream for free.

In Melbourne, he rigged an old man’s iPod to play the Beatles song “Birthday” over and over again – until he remembered to buy his wife a gift.

In Oxford, he anticipated that an elderly professor was about to refer to his only black student, Charles, as “Jamal.” He quickly short-circuited the fire alarm, emptying the classroom just in time.”

What makes it even more interesting is the need for miracles to be stealthy, leading to the particular cleverness of the story…

“‘We can only affect the lives of humans indirectly,’ Craig explained. ‘Through discreet, natural phenomena. We can cause electrical blackouts, make hail, use lightning. We can control the tides and trigger sneezes. We just can’t do anything that would let the humans know we’re here.'”

What in God’s Name is also terribly sweet. After calling God to account, one thing leads to another and before they know it, Eliza and Craig are looking down the barrel of Earth’s doomsday. That is, unless they can unite two young, awkward shut-ins for one single kiss.

While most of the angels are hanging up their wings for a welcome retirement, Craig and Eliza work on, hoping against hope that their breezes, coincidences and food poisonings will do the seemingly impossible.

For some reason, this book made me think a little of the classic, light-comedy movies of the eighties (a good thing) and a little of Tom Robbins (yes again, sorry) and quite randomly, a bit of The Simpson’s Playstation game (don’t ask, I’ve watched the boys play it far too much, obviously).

It’s fun, you’ll get through it in a flash and it’s well-worth adding to the ‘humour’ section of your book collection.

You can pick yourself up a copy of What in God’s Name at the TBYL Store, here…

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter
Sign up for TBYL Book Club here…

Subscribe to TBYL News: All Things Bookish… out monthly!

All hail, King Otto

I’d been looking for this book for a while, I just didn’t know it.

When Andrew Nicoll’s novel landed on my desk, I thought it just another story. In retrospect maybe I should have guessed from my attraction to the book’s cover, but in my defence, I try not to judge. Imagine my shock when If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead snuck up behind me and gave me a fair smack with the wacky stick. What a delightful surprise…

Andrew Nicoll’s If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead (Pan Macmillan) is Otto Witte’s hastily written memiors:

“Sitting in his caravan, drinking what is left of his coffee (dust), Otto has narrowly escaped death at the hands of allied bombs. Convinced his luck has run out and he will not see morning, he decides to record the story of his life for the poor soul who finds his body.

And what a story it is. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a newspaper article was brought to his attention. Why? Because in it was a picture of a particular Turkish prince, called to Albania to be their new king. And this prince just so happened to bear a striking resemblance to Otto…”

Presented with such an obvious opportunity, Otto does the only sensible thing – he runs away from the circus. He takes with him a camel, a cashbox and a band of strong, beautiful and mysterious friends, all of whom are loyal to the last, a worthy ‘royal’ entourage.

Otto, on his travels must undergo a transformation, from the Acrobat of Hamburg to the Kind of Albania. He uses his charm, and when that fails, his brute strength to coerce, cajole and convince his way from Budapest to Albania, and onto the Albanian throne.

Now, don’t be fooled, this is no boys-own-adventure. Claiming the Albanian crown is a serious undertaking, and it’s exactly when things get their most serious that they can also become their most bizarre:

“Arbuthnot went out and stood in the middle of the courtyard, feet together, arms spread, and he raised his long wolf jaw to the sky and he began to blow. His lips were formed in a tight O and he blew, like a silent whistle at the bring moon sky. All around the courtyard the men lining the walls did the same thing, they turned their faces up to the sky and they blew. There were dozens of men there, more than a hundred of them blowing thin blue trails of tobacco smoke at the sky, cigarettes and hookah pipes all puffing upwards and – this is the part I don’t believe – the sky darkened. The smoke rose and, as it rose, it thickened and grey clouds crept in over the rooftops and hid the sun.”

Unbenounced to Otto and his merry troupe, they were most certainly ‘sailing to murder and greed and ice-cold lust’ and so goes the rise and fall of King Otto.

Nicoll’s has created a fabulous tale, unique and colourful. It’s a fantastically funny story, whilst dark and earnest in perfect measure. The novel itself is magical, nicely reminiscent of works like Alice Through the Looking Glass, or the recent feature film Hugo. For me though, the real highlight was the fact that it reminded me of reading a novel by my favourite author, Tom Robbins. Robbins’ novels are surreal, crazy and lusty and Nicoll’s book has many of the same characteristics.

Of course, If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead is it’s own strange self, it’s wonderfully original, but at the same time it has allowed me to recapture just a little of the delight I took from reading Robbins all those years ago. That is what makes it the book I’ve been looking for, and I’m rapt.


Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing a Diane Chamberlain’s edge of your seat read, The Good Father (Harlequin)


Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter
Sign up for TBYL Book Club here…

Subscribe to TBYL News: All Things Bookish… out monthly!

My Monday: Jitterbug Perfume

As promised, I’m going to do something a little different on Mondays for a while. I’m going to hope that you’ll indulge me as I share some of my golden oldies, my personal favourites, the books on my bookshelf whose covers are most likely falling off their fronts…

Tonight’s pick as an object is certainly looking a little worse for wear, but only because it is so well loved. It’s my copy of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, my number one.

I’m a big fan of Robbins, as anyone who knows me can attest to, but this book is by far my favourite.

“Jitterbug Perfume is an epic…which is to say, it begins in the forests of ancient Bohemia and doesn’t conclude until nine o’clock tonight (Paris time).

It is a saga, as well. A saga must have a hero and the hero of this one is a janitor with a missing bottle.

The bottle is blue, very, very old and embossed with the image of a goat-horned god.

If the liquid in the bottle actually is the secret essence of the universe, as some folks seem to think, it had better be discovered soon because it is leaking and there is only a drop or two left.”

In my opinion, Jitterbug Perfume is Robbin’s best written novel, and the story is absolutely magical. The storytelling itself is complex and quirky (as you might expect) and the tale is visceral, romantic, sexed-up and beautifully mythical. And, of course, in true Robbin’s style it’s just a little bit ridiculous.

The novel is about Alobar and Kundra’s search for eternal youth, and at the same time about Priscilla’s pursuit of the perfect fragrance. And, let’s be blunt, it’s about lust. It’s about Pan, and funk and sex all around. It was quite an education, reading this book as a teenage girl, I can tell you.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve stopped looking for that embossed blue bottle in every op shop and flea market I’ve visited since reading this book. Many years ago now, I actually bought a tiny little bottle, with a stopper on a string that very nearly matched the description, opening it from time to time in the hope of a hint of Jasmine.

I know it’s random, but I still wish that I liked beets (the true hero of this story) just a little bit more than I do and even after all these years I’m fairly sure I’ve still got a crush on King Alobar.

As with many of his novels, Robbins’ skilfully intertwines four distinct stories in this epic – their connection being revealed slowly throughout the novel. It’s a most satisfying read and you really come to feel for the characters and their personal quests, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.

All of Tom Robbins’ books are worth reading, Still Life with Woodpecker is super-cheeky and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is probably the best place to start if you’ve not read Robbins’ before. This said, as I mentioned earlier, Jitterbug Perfume is by far my favourite and the one I keep going back to.

What’s your cheeky favourite book?

Buy your own copy of Jitterbug Perfume at the TBYL Store!

Join us:   Facebook  and  Twitter