Friday, 12 June 2015

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

This is maybe the third or fourth (or fifth?) Christopher Moore that I've read, and I've had varying reactions to them. A few I've really enjoyed, a few others have seemed to be straining too hard for a chuckle, without enough meat to them to make them a pleasant meal if the jokes don't whet your appetite. This one, fortunately, weighs the scale down more on the funny and substantial side.

Still, I am not finding them gut-bustingly hilarious. There are some good jokes, there are some amusing sequences, and the oddly matched taxidermied animals amused me greatly, but from far and large, this was more gentle smile territory than laughing-out-loud-alarming-my-husband fare. Which is okay. I have that reaction to a lot of humour writing. I respond much better to verbal humour, not so intensely to written.

The reason I think this one works better for me is the emotional core of it. Sure, the main character is a bit of a bumbler (or as Moore likes to repeatedly call it, a Beta Male), but he has suffered major loss and is trying to go on living as best he can.

So, the plot. Soon after his baby daughter is born, Charlie runs back into his wife's hospital room, only to find a strange man there, and a dead wife. The first part of the book deals with the genuine emotional impact of this, Charlie stunned by the medical fluke of the death of his wife, while trying to figure out how to keep this new small pink thing alive.

Then he discovers that the reason that he could see the man in his wife's room was that he, Charlie himself, is about to become like him, not quite Death, but someone who finds objects into which people put their souls and claims them around the time of death. Then, through his second-hand shop, he makes sure those souls find new homes.

Which is intriguing, the idea that most people are walking around quite happily and functionally without souls, but that there is a steady movement of souls around. We're never given a good explanation between souled and soulless. (What is is with authors refusing to actually define this? I'm looking at you, Gail Carriger.) I wish that was gone into in detail, because it's obviously not as simple as souled=good, soulless=bad.

At any rate, when Charlie messes up, strange voices start to hiss at him from the sewers, threatening all sorts of bodily mayhem. He eventually learns that what he does helps keep the world in order, and it would be bad if he didn't. Charlie becomes convinced that he himself is the big kahuna Death,  who has been absent from the world for a long time.

(The actual answer to this is a twist that is so obvious from the first few pages that I really hope it wasn't supposed to be a surprise. Because there's some pleasure in watching Charlie totally, consistently, and in a manner that owes a lot to Good Omens, miss the point, but I really hope the author wasn't expected his readers to miss it too.)

So it's a book about grief, wrapped up in a book about small taxidermied animals in fancy-dress, creepy Celtic goddesses in the sewers, and hellhounds that eat soap. It doesn't feel like there's another leap there about death more generally, and that would have been even better, but if we're merely talking about Charlie and his journey through a world made strange by his wife's absence, that's certainly enough emotional punch to carry this one through, to give some satisfaction when the jokes don't quite make it.

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