Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tom Holt Fills A Troth With Sausages

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of SausagesEveryone experiences a bit of absentmindedness from time to time. A sock disappears. A remote is put away. A once full cup of coffee is finished.

But not everyone experiences such events in a novel by author Tom Holt, where anything and everything can happen and usually does. For Polly Mayer, it's not just her coffee that goes missing. The cleaners where she dropped off her last coat is gone.

There isn't even a crater in its place. The shop has moved and the stores on the same block have closed in. She isn't the only one to notice either. Her brother, Donald, watches his neighbor vanish, shortly after wishing him away.

And then there are the cleaners themselves, a couple who seems inexplicably stuck inside their shop as it disappears and reappears in one location and then the next, day after day, year after year. But that's not the half of it. Just beyond their bathroom door, two knights have been fighting for more than a thousand years, which is considerably longer than it took for the pig to fathom her piglets were being swept in a temporal trans-dimensional gate.

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sausages is an exercise in the wonderfully absurd.

While many reviewers have frightened people away from this fantastic mind bender with warnings of too many characters, the book never descends into chaos even if the characters in it sometimes do. It requires a little faith in Holt, knowing that his entire cast is traveling toward the same destination.

They are. It only takes a little while to get there, which is precisely why his comic tale works so well. The ride is much more fun than ever reaching a destination, even if some characters become stuck in their own contemplation for a page or two too long.

chicken peopleIt's such ramblings that might explain why a few reviewers frame it up as nothing more than a satirical farce. I might too, but only as a compliment. Holt does a fine job juggling the point of view of about eight principal characters, some of whom are easy to mistake as the supporting cast.

All of them, whether they know it or not, are being tested. They are all being asked, directly and indirectly, one of the most pressing questions that has plagued humankind for centuries: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Holt manages to answer the question within the last quarter of the book, assuming you accept one or several answers that some characters entertain (and not become too hung up on the idea that the whole affair is really a metaphor for parallel universes folding in on each other, or maybe being contained within each other). Or perhaps, well, you know. Maybe not.

This may seem like a tall order to deliver, especially as the first character introduced at the open is a sow. But don't worry. You won't have to brave the wrangling over physics in between normal pig distractions too long.

The introduction simply sets the tone and the amusing (but not side splitting) absurdity of what is about to come. Well, that and the opening becomes apparently important several hundred pages later.

A Link Between The Author And His Past.

Tom HoltWhen Tom Holt attended Oxford, he primarily studied bar billiards, Greek agriculture, and temperamental Japanese motorcycle engines. And with such a dynamic skill set, as you might imagine, this diverse backyard qualified him as a solicitor (attorney) specializing in death and taxes.

But since there is no future in either death or taxes, Holt inevitably turned his attention to comedic writing in 1987. His name graces more than 30 wonderful books, almost a half dozen historical novels (that means five), and a few more odds and ends.

He is brilliantly funny in that he has mastered the craft of making fun of familiar. That requires a certain semblance of artfulness that not many writers can muster. In fact, he has said several times that he is striving to produce something that people call unfunny, but with a smile on their faces. With Sausages, he might even be close.

Tom Holt's Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sausages Carves Out A 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Lifelong Holt fans like to say Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sausages isn't his finest work. It's still masterful, regardless, with two caveats. There is no punchline per se, but only a final accounting ties it all up nicely. So don't expect an "ah ha" revelation.

Second, the craft outshines the characters to the point that you don't really care about them so much. One of them comes close to being something more than disposable, but this character's own formality keeps it in check. You decide whether that is good or bad, just keep in mind that you'll have some fun figuring it out.

Released earlier this year, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages can be found on Amazon. You can also download the book from iBooks or order it from Barnes & Noble. It's a quick read at 400 pages and published by Orbit.
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