2015; 326 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Absurdism; British Humour; Time Travel; Fantasy. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
The year is 1927. Her Madge, Queen Victoria is about to feted at her Double Sapphire Jubilee, which means she’s been on the Royal Throne for 90 years. The celebration will take on Count Ilya Rostov’s spaceship “The Leviathan”, orbiting in space high above the Earth. Dignitaries and Luminaries from all four planets in Queen Vic’s empire will be there.
What? You say Queen Victoria died in 1901 and there weren’t any such things as spaceships in the 1920’s? And that furthermore you can prove it because this is all historical record from almost a century ago? I’m sorry, you must be living in an alternate universe.
But there are those who say that things are (were) going to go amiss during the event, and that somebody needs to go back in time and put things aright again.
And whoever agrees to do this ought to have a time-traveling sprout in his head, to lend him sage advice.
What’s To Like...
The Abominable Showman is Robert Rankin’s most recent effort, and, as is true of any of his books, is chock full of absurdity, wit, plot twists, and clever dialogue. The hero of the story is – well, we don’t really know, since his name is never revealed - and that takes some deft writing by Rankin. But the plotline is easy to follow: he uses a 1st-person POV when the protagonist is involved, a 3rd-person POV for everyone else.
As in any Rankin offreing, the dialogue and peripheral craziness take precedence over the main storyline. A lot of the recurring gags appear again here, including the lady in a straw hat, Lazlo Woodbine, Fangio’s bar, and the mystical martial art, Dimac. But the story’s events are ambitious and fascinating too. The reader will take a walk in the Garden of Eden, play 3-D Clue, learn the secret of the Sun, travel through time and dimensions, meet God (his first name is Terrance, FYI), and last and probably least, save the World.
There’s a MacGuffin, some great mixed drinks (rum and cocaine, mescaline and lemonade, etc.), and a bunch of sounds-dirty-but-isn’t euphemisms, such as buffing the landau, biffing the badger, and chasing pinky around the garden lady.
The characters are fun to meet as well. John ‘Boy’ Betjeman will entertain you with his little odes, and the three owls (Owl Jolson, Owl Capone, and Owleister Crowley) all contribute to the amusing antics.
Despite all the literary tangents, everything builds steadily to an exciting, twisty and well-conceived ending. This is a standalone novel, and a worthy addition to several series in Robert Rankin’s repertoire.
Kewlest New Word...
Catspaw (n.) : a person used to serve the purposes of another.
Others : Tumescence (n.); Beadle (n.); Tannoy (n.).
“Well,” said the chap. “You’ll be kept busy. Just about every high-falooting swell on the four worlds will be attending the Jubilee ball. The celebrations will be like nothing on Earth.” The chap laughed loudly at what he considered to have been a rather witty remark. I laughed too, but out of politeness.
“Ninety years is a very long time for a queen to be on the throne,” I said.
“Her bum would be rather sore,” said the chap and he laughed once more, and louder. (loc. 1043)
“Armadillos,” said Sir Jonathan Crawford once again. “Crusty little nubnunks that scuttle about like bandy-legged butlers.”
“Know the fellas well,” said the roguish Atters. “Bagged a few in the Americas on a big game hunt last year. “Had a motor cycle helmet made out of one. Can vouch for their inefficiency in regards to cushioning the head. Came a cropper, terrible business.”
“You wore one on your head whilst riding a motor bicycle?” queried John ‘Boy’ Betjeman.
“Me? Heavens no. Had the mater test it out for me.” (loc. 2508)
The Abominable Showman sells for $8.99 at Amazon, a decent price for the latest release by this author. Robert Rankin has a slew of other books for the Kindle, all in the $4.99-$7.99 range, and most of them going for $6.99.
“If you are going to destroy our planet can I be on your side?” (loc. 535)
There’s nothing to quibble about in The Abominable Showman, with ample humor although it didn’t reach out and grab my funny bone the way a lot of other Robert Rankin books I’ve read did. Still, it is a worthwhile read and we're really just nitpicking between a good book by the author and an excellent one.
FWIW, a number of Amazon reviewers seemed a tad bit peeved that Mr. Rankin self-published this book and thus it is only available in the Kindle version. My reading happens to be about equally divided between e-books and “real” books, so this didn’t make any difference to me. I can’t say I prefer one over the other; both have their assets and drawbacks.
One reader/reviewer offered some interesting insight into his displeasure in this regard. He said he owns every one of Robert Rankin’s books, and they stand proudly in his bookcase. But this one can’t take its place alongside the others, because it only exists in electronic form.