First Published: 2012 by Bearstache Books
My copy: Bought by my husband on Kindle
Memorable quote: “…the clatter of our chariot’s wheels on filth-encrusted cobblestones like a thrumping rumba beat from a Casio key-board’s ‘demonstration mode.’ I had owned one of those enchanted Oriental music-pianos once, long ago in another life – now its tonnes of pipes and pulleys and coal-fired synthesizer-sprockets reduced, like the rest of my past, to a muddy mixture of figurative and literal ashes.”
Sometimes it’s good for the soul to read something that is just wilfully silly. This is one such book. David Malki! is the man behind the Wondermark webcomic, and this, his gleefully irreverent and bad-taste parody of the triple-decker Victorian novel, takes all the excesses of the genre and runs with them far beyond the boundaries of either sense or good taste. The ridiculous plot – which extends from fashionable London drawing rooms, to a pirate ship, to a prison isle, to full-blown airship war – follows an unnamed protagonist who, from humble roots, has murdered his way up the social hierarchy and yet feels ill at ease in his new, landed milieu. It’s kinda like H.G. Wells on acid.
This isn’t a great novel. For a start (like many of the books it parodies) it’s far too long, and I felt my interest flagging, particularly in the middle volume. I had to put it aside, read a few other books, then come back to it. But it is a fun and silly ride with some good jokes along the way. The text is stuffed with anachronisms and ridiculous premises and, while the protagonist’s casual brutality makes him hard to like, he is a surprisingly compelling anti-hero purely in the “what depths will he stoop to next” type sense. Malki! can write well and there are a few genuinely powerful images littered amongst the throw-away one-liners. But it’s actually the visuals that truly make Dispatches from Wondermark Manor worth a look. Like the webcomic, the novel draws heavily on out-of-copyright Victorian etchings and images. Many of these are interesting in their own right, but Malki’s amusing captions really make them. He parodies the typical C19th century practice of including plates at regular intervals which means they don’t always tie in with the actions described in the text, and takes this to an extreme including plates of characters and vistas that have nothing to do with the action at all, or simply including images of “a chair” or “some kind of windmill.” In fact it was these that had me chuckling more than the text itself. All in all, this is not the sort of thing I could read too much of, but it was fun for a change!