Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Jokerman 8

Jokerman 8 by Richard Melo
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's review
Jan 10, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: owned-and-still-own, defenestrated
Read in June, 2008

Richard Melo, Jokerman 8 (Soft Skull, 2004)

A friend of mine passed this onto me a couple of years ago. It took me a while to get round to actually picking it up, which I simply attributed to laziness and a pile of books to be read that grows to resemble the Matterhorn more with every passing day. Then I actually read the back copy, and realized that there was some sort of psychic vibration driving me away. Still, I'd promised myself (and my friend) that I'd give it a go, so I did. Silly me. I normally give books fifty pages before consigning them to a short life of flight out a window, but I broke the rule slightly on this one; a new chapter began at page forty-eight, and it was the longest chapter I'd encountered so far, so I catapulted it on its way after only forty-eight pages. Given the problems I had with the book, I can be relatively sure that it wasn't going to get any better.

Jokerman 8 tells the story, if the back copy is to be believed, of an ecoterrorist organization. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but there it is. But apart from a few words from the narrator, the first forty-eight pages takes place in flashback, to the leader of the group's (I'm supposing here, apologies if I'm incorrect) genesis and youth. I got a distinct sense of Mervyn Peake here (you know, the chap who wanted to write a thousand-page book whose protagonist turned two at the end?), but Richard Melo is by no stretch of the imagination Mervyn Peake; any humor and intrigue to be found in these pages was entirely lost on me.

My problem was less with the story itself than with the writing style. I was soured on the book from the opening pages, the "few words from the narrator" I mentioned earlier, which are just plain awful. I soldiered on, hoping that the writing would get better once we got into more structured territory, but it didn't; where in matters of form I was put in mind of Mervyn Peake, stylistically I got a very strong sense of Tom Robbins with a dash of Richard Brautigan (more in the sense of social consciousness than humor). Now, I'm perfectly willing to admit that my problem with the style could well be my failing, since I've loathed every Tom Robbins book I've ever tried to read, but once again I have to say: Richard Melo is no Tom Robbins. There's the same sense of absurdity in the situations and in the actions of the characters, but there's no real coherence to it. The most apt comparison I can some up with is that Melo is Sjoman's I Am Curious to Robbins being Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism. You might get a few chuckles amidst the vast confusion and stupidity of Sjoman, whereas Makavejev actually made a movie worth watching.

In the end, though, I couldn't take it, and out the window it went. Bloody horrible. (zero)

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