Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review of Death, the Devil, and the Goldfish by Andew Buckley

The devil has made a deal with God and gets to spend a week on earth.  Unfortunately for the devil, the body he had arranged to inhabit is not available, so he is forced to inhabit the body of a cat.  Things get worst for the world when the Angel of Death is then convinced by the prince of darkness into quitting in a drunken rage. So, not only is the devil free to run amok but people can no longer die.  Then there is a thing with evil elves and a penguin who becomes human.  If this sounds confusing trust me, it will all become clear when you read this book.

As I was reading this book, I kept wondering how I was going to review it.  So much happened that at times I felt that it was headed nowhere and had no discernible plot.  To add to the problem, I don't even think I can say that Death, the Devil, and the Goldfish, even had a clear protagonist. The protagonist could easily have been a penguin named Gerald, a police officer named Nigel, or a scientist named Celina. With the importance of Death in story, I'm sure some might argue that the protagonist is actually the grim reaper. The only thing that I can identify for certain is that the devil is indeed the antagonist.

Normally I wouldn't even finish a book with this much confusion but would you believe that not only did I finish Death, the Devil and the Goldfish, I loved it?   The plot was thin at best and the story seemed to move from amusing anecdote to anecdote.  Normally, this would not be enough to hold any book together but Buckley's writing is laugh out loud funny and with each absurdity, I became more and more excited to see where his imaginative mind would go next.

How could I not love a story which involved the devil inhabiting the body of a cat named Fuzzbucket and then getting frustrated about having to cough up furballs?  Then there is the penguin who shifts into the body of a millionaire, while his body is shifted to a plane where humans worship penguins.  There is also the line dancing elves, which of course makes us question how the macerna ever became a popular dance. Also, the very idea of God as a wine waiter, wisely guiding the universe along is absolutely irreverent. It is impossible to read this book and not giggle.

Death the Devil and the Goldfish takes place in London, which is a very diverse city.  There were no GLBT characters or disabled characters.  There were few characters of colour in the story and they essentially added very little to the sparse plot.  I would remiss if I didn't mention one scene in particular that I found problematic.

Neville had many strange ways of dealing with his problems and more somber moods. Firing members of his staff from a medieval-style catapult into his swimming pool was one of his favorites and always seemed to brighten him up. Today, it was the cleaning staff's turn, a group of Mexican men and women who worked hard to abolish every speck of dust from Neville's many mansions and, in turn, were paid handsomely.

"No, I think that's enough for today. That last one got some good height, didn't he?"
"Yes, sir," said Beatrice, "very good height indeed." Beatrice waved a hand toward the Mexican staff who quickly disbanded and went back to their duties. (pg41)
To be clear, Neville is an eccentric millionaire but that does not excuse his treatment of these characters in his employ. This scene was treated as just another absurdity in the story, which made it that much more problematic. You cannot, even as a joke, reduce the humanity of characters of colour in this fashion.  

Death, the Devil and the Goldfish has overwhelmingly male characters.  The only female character of note is Celina the fiery scientist. Though she did call Nigel for help when she is trapped by the evil elves, she plays an integral role in saving the world from the devil's evil machinations. I love that every time she lost her temper or did something heroic, her wild and overly stubborn ancestors cheer her on.  I love that unlike far too many paranormal romance or urban fantasy novels, when Celine realises that she finds Nigel attractive, she doesn't dwell on it and instead chastises herself for thinking about this while her life is at risk. Celine is truly an awesome character.

Death, the Devil and the Goldfish
, left room at the end for a sequel and I am very excited to read it.  I am sure that just like its predecessor, I will have no idea where the story is going but given the importance of the goldfish, it has to be someplace good.  Death, the Devil and the Goldfish is easily one of the most bizarre books that I have ever read.  My most of the standards I have developed for rating a book, it should have been an absolute failure, given its thin plot and habit of jumping all over the place but it was an excellent read, full of unique situations and hilarious dialogue.  I highly suspect that if you are a fan of Monty Python, you will love this unique British entry into the genre.

Editors Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley