Review of a funny book which reminds us all why we should all be more astonished

25 05 2012

Christopher Shevlin can really write. His novel “The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax” can be purchased from Mr Amazon Kindle’s emporium – search for it here.

It is packed with elegant, funny turns of phrase, slantwise ways of looking at the world, which actually make sense and are genuinely amusing, plus a set of charming and bizarre characters and a really entertaining and satisfying plot. Definitely worth a read.

This is Shevlin’s first published novel (I think – I haven’t seen any more – maybe there are hundreds!). It’s an absolute joy to see a new, self-assured, funny,light-hearted comedy voice emerge through this book.

The author pretty much invites us to compare the book with Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books. That’s a brave thing to do, considering Douglas Adams is one of our great comedy stylists. Gulp. But this actually stacks up creditably against Adams’ work – and is not dissimilar. It’s witty, erudite, and long on well-described set pieces where things happen… quite slowly… but are described in very interesting ways. The down sides are that the plot sometimes plays second fiddle to the author’s love of wordsmithing; and the narrative voice is so distinctive that it can overwhelm the different characters.

But Shevlin doesn’t need to lose any sleep because these are criticisms which could fairly also be levelled at Douglas Adams too – so he’s in august company. When it comes to the plot of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detetctive Agency, Douglas Adams himself freely admitted he didn’t understand what the hell was going on for most of it.

And it’s worth saying this is not just a Douglas Adams pastiche. Shevlin is definitely emerging from the long shadow of the Master  – and I do like the mental picture I now have of Douglas Adams as the Darth Vader of comedy writing –  but he’s got his own voice. It’s particularly pleasing the way humorous asides are included but not clunkingly pointed out. (Like the many different government departments and projects which are mentioned in passing and all have inappropriate acronym-names). As a reader I felt gently smug and discerning, which is always a good feeling to have when reading comedy, I find.

So what’s it about? Well basically there’s this endearing chap called Jonathan Fairfax who bumbles his way through all sorts of murder mystery shenanigans, with a bit of political thrill thrown in. He’s hamstrung by his own donnish analysis of his own emotions. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t know what expression to pull when he’s feeling sincere, because he has to work out what sincerely expressing an emotion would look like.

Shevlin is at his best when we are in the inner world of this character. His set-pieces on talking to the opposite sex, or when Fairfax has concussion, are very funny. We feel for Jonathon Fairfax, because he’s got such basic goodwill even when he’s a bit confused.

The word astonishment is, I suspect, carefully chosen. An astonished character is so much lovelier than a wryly amused, supercilious or self-important one. “The Self-Importance of Jonathon Fairfax” would be very unpleasant. “The Smug Nob-head, Jonathon Fairfax” – nah.

This book is, in a way, a manifesto for us all to recapture our childlike state of astonishment with the world.  Which is good. It comes from a happy place and made me laugh. I liked it.

It’s self-published as well, and Chris explains how he did it on his blog here .  The rest of the blog is blimmin’ brilliant as well.




2 responses

27 05 2012
The first review

[…] My book has been reviewed by Sarah Castell (an improviser with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, among much else) on Amazon and on her lovely blog, here:… […]

1 06 2012
A comic novel

[…] Read the first review […]

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