Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Forty-First Wink review

    The Forty-First Wink is a novel which would make an excellent Terry Gilliam movie. It doesn't have that deep psychological edge or dream-logic which makes things like Brazil so appealing but there's some fun stuff here which is reminiscent of Time Bandits (an underrated classic).

    If I were to summarize what it's like, I'd say it's what you get when you dump Simon Pegg's character from Shaun of the Dead into Toon Town. It's very obvious the novel was written by a resident of the British Isles since the humor works best when viewed through the lens of a poor working-class schlub dumped into a magical dream world only to get chased around by evil psychotic clowns. All the while being helped by a bunch of toy pirates.


    Oh wait, that's just the plot.


    The premise is Marty is a Generation Y-er who aspires to be an artist but hasn't managed to create anything. Instead, he spends the majority of his existence in a figurative sleepwalking state, going to work and returning home to go back to work in the morning again. He has dreams and works in a profession which is symbolic of the fact they're being put aside for other people's amusement (he's one of the guys animal costumes at theme parks).

    One day, Marty's Id has enough of how much he's neglected and seizes control over his body. For most of this, it would mean going on a binge of drinking and causal hook-ups but for Marty results in his consciousness being dumped in his unconscious. The toys from his childhood, evil clowns, the girl he's been crushing on for months, kaiju, Nazis, and very-weird superheroes are the things he encounters in his quest to wake up.

    The strength of the story is the way the novel apes Alice in Wonderland with an adult male protagonist. The world he inhabits is extremely random, being the detritus of Marty's existence, so there's more or less nothing which is off-limits. There's also some enjoyable symbolism which doesn't get spelled out, such as the fact pirate toy Timbers representing a time when anything was possible in Marty's life and the fact he's ruining his life by choosing not to engage with it.

    If The Forty-First Wink has flaws, it's perhaps the fact the book is hesitant to engage with its protagonist. Marty remains a passive character in his dreamworld, willing to accept things on their own terms. The most honest moment of the book is Marty's lengthy discussion of his feelings for dream-girlfriend Kate as well as how he believes it is a universal truism clowns are horrifying rather than funny. Which is true, by the way.

    I think the book could have been improved by exploring more of Mary's life and world in-particular. He goes to visit a bar to find Timbers, for example, but it would have been interesting to have it be one where he's spent a great deal of time. A place like the Winchester from Shaun of the Dead for example. Likewise, it seems somewhat dishonest that we have his fantasy girlfriend and worst nightmares in his subconscious but there's not a nod to the fact there's a dirty-thoughts district in his head.

    Now, is the book funny?

    That's an interesting question. I've read other reviews and heard it described as a laugh-a-minute romp while I took this as somewhat serious fairy-tale where the random events were dangerous. Is it funny to get chewed out by your reflection? To almost get stomped on by Godzilla? Maybe. It could also be taken at face-value. I suspect the humor content of the story will depend greatly on how the reader takes events.

    In conclusion, The Forty-First Wink is a bizarre dream adventure which is quite different from the majority of works out there today. I would have liked Marty to have been more proactive in his pursuit of a better world or more insights into his mindset but I suppose the point of the book is he's a boring person. It's Timber and his eccentric crew who are there to show Marty has the potential to be something more.


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