Monday, March 14, 2011

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages

Tom Holt's novel entitled Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages is subtitled A Comedy of Transdimensional Tomfoolery (which makes it slightly less appealing than his Who's Afraid of Beowulf? and Paint Your Dragon).  This newest novel seems designed to appeal to lovers of Douglas Adams--OF WHICH I AM ONE--but I wouldn't have heard of it except for the review at Life With Books.  In the end, though, I didn't find it funny enough to carry off the absurdity in true Adamsian style.  The details, while cunningly arranged, have about the staying power of ripe dandelion fluff.

There were parts that made me laugh out loud, though.  What begins all the trouble with the space-time continuum is a man stretching it out to get a parking place, and one of the first symptoms that something is wrong is that a paralegal keeps getting cups of coffee that disappear before she can drink them.  The portal between worlds turns out to be a small, mom-and-pop drycleaners.  Even the way magic is used turns out to be largely a matter of being able to read the manual, and if there are guidelines, they're a bit like the hippocratic oath ("first, do no harm"):
"Magic could get you out of traffic, but only if you vanished all the other road users. Of course, there were people who'd do that, and presumably that was why magic wasn't used, and why it was kept a secret."
There is a very British sense of humor throughout this book about small actions and large consequences.

Reading Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages is fun the way putting together the answer to a mystery is fun--you can work out what's happening before it's explained, and the clues are fitted perfectly to each other, like in a good thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.  Also there's the pleasure of allusions--including an explicit allusion to a rationalization in The Lord of the Rings when someone finds a magical object and wants to keep it--and some to Alice in Wonderland, the first Narnia book, and Doctor Who.

One beginning of a chapter shows me that Holt at his best can be almost as good as Adams, even if it takes him a lot more words. Adams' The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul begins with the memorable line:
"It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an Airport' appear."
And Holt's seventh chapter of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages begins with the following two paragraphs:
"The daily commute is a joyful thing. In our secular society it's taken the place of morning prayers; a time to meditate, reflect, get one's head together, to consider the challenges and opportunities of the day ahead and decide how best to engage with them for the greater good of oneself and others.
Or something like that. In the bus scrum someone grazed his heel down the side of Polly's ankle, laddering her tights and delaminating her skin--but he muttered, "Sorry," so that was all right. The Tube escalator had broken down, so she got some healthy exercise. One handle of her shoulder bag gave way, spilling her possessions onto the pavement like a Medici flinging gold to the masses in the piazza. All good fun."

Also like Adams, Holt throws in an occasional gratuitously silly image:
"Depending on the water pressure and the angle from which the jets were directed, the flames either rose higher, doubled their heat output or played selections from Phantom of the Opera (the original cast recording). Fire-suppressant foam turned the fire purple, with a faint green pinstripe...."  Later, when a hired thamaturg comes into an apartment and feels an object of power, he thinks maybe his career is about to reach a pinnacle and he'll get an award, although "these days the Merlins are little more than a popularity contest, a means of recognizing the fact that so-and-so's managed to complete thirty years in the trade without being killed, transfigured or imprisoned for ever in the heart of a glacier."

Reading this book will definitely give you more possible answers than you ever wanted to know to the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Who would like this book?  People who long for anything Douglas Adams-like now that he's gone.  Monty Python fans.  Certainly any reader of science fiction who likes it on the silly side (yes, Scalzi fans).


FreshHell said...

Guess I need to read that Adams book you sent me, huh?

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, it is my favorite. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy helped form my view of the universe!

Karen K. said...

I've always loved Hitchhiker's Guide -- I'm not a huge SciFi fan but this sounds fun. And I just bought the new Jasper Fforde which sounds equally wacky. Might be just the thing for spring break.

Harriet said...

Freshhell, I am not a sci fi fan, but I loved the Adams series and read them over and over again as a kid. They are funny as hell. Also, if you can get a hold of the original radio broadcasts of Hitchhikers, they are magnificent and would probably entertain your kids in the car.

kittiesx3 said...

It's almost as though you have to not particularly like sci fi to like Adams. I liked all the Hitchhikers stuff OK but it wasn't life changing to me or anything. And I do love sci fi. But I get annoyed when books are too clever for themselves.

And yet I loved The Gone Away War which also had some too clever for itself moments.

Then again I read most of Piers Anthony Xanth books in my 20s and I'm well and truly over that genre forever.

Jeanne said...

Karen(librarian), Holt is also compared to Christopher Moore--my favorites by him are Lamb and Fluke.

Harriet, we like the BBC Hitchhiker's and we also have another recording. It's great out loud.

Elizabeth, I hadn't thought of "too clever for itself" as kind of a sub-genre, but it might well be. The Gone-Away World isn't funny like Adams, but it does have that sense of the absurd.

Jenners said...

I'm glad it wasn't a total disappointment! It has been so long since I read Adams that I've lost my sense of his writing. Like you said, it is a nice (if not a bit pale) substitute for the real thing.

Jeanne said...

Jenners, I'm glad I read it; it doesn't seem pale, exactly, but more purposeful and therefore less funny.

Jodie said...

Did Hitchhiker's really help form how you view the universe? How COOL!

I read quite a bit of Holt when I was growing up but find him hit or 'omg I am drowning in boredom'. I used to feel he was more Pratchett than Adams like though for some reason.

Jeanne said...

Jodie, it really did. I find myself using wording from that series and from Dr. Seuss books sometimes without realizing that's where that way of saying something came from.

I've never been able to read Pratchett. I suspect I tried his stuff when I was already too old.