Reading Stephen Fry’s most recent biography, More Fool Me, finally prompted me to pick this up after having it loom over me from the shelf for years. I wasn’t avoiding it, but my interest just kept getting pulled elsewhere. It came up in the autobiography because Laurie was working on the novel during the period of Fry’s journal that was included. He mentioned how funny it was, and while I know his opinion is biased, it finally made me pick it up.
For some reason I thought he’d take a straighter edge with the novel, but it’s incredibly funny. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with so many gags and witty remarks per line as this. He makes Terry Pratchett look like Tim O’Brien. It actually became a bit too much, to be honest. I love humour in my reading, but sometimes it’s nice to pull back a bit and let some other elements shine through. It makes it difficult to really care about the characters if there’s literally no break in the jokes, and it begins to feel needy and insecure.
He certainly has nothing to feel insecure about, though, because he’s a great writer. While I had some issue with the plotting and pace of the novel, which I’m sure is just a common first novel problem, his descriptions and use of language was fantastic. He makes it seem so effortless too, which probably comes from a history of comedy that focused on wordplay, but he could make every description and scene hilarious while still being incredibly vivid.
But Raynor was also three inches taller than me, four stones heavier, and at least eight however-you-measure-violence units more violent. He was uglier than a car park, with a big, hairless skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners, and his flattened fighter’s nose, apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot, spread out in a meandering, lopsided delta under the rough slab of his forehead.
Moving now the side elevation, we find that Rayner’s ears had, long ago, been bitten off and spat back on to the side of his head, because the left one was definitely upside down, or inside out, or something that made you stare at it for a long time before thinking ‘oh, it’s and ear’.
It felt like Laurie was having a blast writing this, and I was having a blast reading it. His writing actually really made me want to try my hand at fiction again. It’s just felt fun. I was a little heartbroken to see he hasn’t written anything since this. Apparently his second novel, titled The Paper Soldier, was initially scheduled to be released in September 2007, then scheduled for a September 2009 release, and now currently has no release date. I’m hoping it comes out eventually, or he gives up on it and writes something else, because I’d love read more from him and see how his writing matures.