Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Aberystwyth Mon Amour
Aberystwyth Mon Amour is a crime noir novel set in Aberystwyth. There's ice-cream salons and 24-hour whelk stalls and a ridiculous kind of Noah's Ark thing going on.
It should, then, be a parody. But it can't seem to make up it's mind.
I'm reminded of Jasper Fforde. In Shades of Grey, he deftly mixes obvious comedy with a serious, intelligent plot. Pryce is going for the same sort of thing in Aberystwyth, but he doesn't quite make it.
The problem is, he can't make up his mind. At least I think he can't, because I'ev read the book and I can't make up my mind. Surely if he had decided one way or the other, the first thing he'd do would be to let the book know.
It's an enjoyable book, and that comes from both sides. The comedy is funny, the crime plot is competent and happily convoluted. But they don't sit so well together.
He has the same approach as Fforde, so why doesn't it work? That approach is to root the comedy in the very substance of the world, and then write about it as if it is completely serious. Fforde never sniggers when he introduces us to a world where spoons are postcodes, ID cards and black market currency all in one go. Pryce doesn't bat an eye-lid when he tells us the Welsh teacher is also the mafia don. So far, so good.
But it's not quite the same, because it's a different type of humour. Fforde builds his world out of absurdity. And when absurdity becomes normal, it not only becomes even funnier, it also becomes -- perversely -- believable. That works, both ways.
Pryce, though, with his (excellent) Chandler-prose and numerous nods to the tropes of a whole genre, often shifts from absurdity to parody. And when you make parody the normal substance of the novel, it becomes less funny.
Parody means laughing at the whole thing from the outside, and so the book itself becomes the joke. And, surprise surprise, that seriously undermines any of the jokes in the book. It becomes less believable, as well: you can't be involved in a world which you're consistently withdrawing from to acknowledge the joke of it.
All this might sound too critical. I really enjoyed Aberystwyth Mon Amour. It was funny and tricksy and different enough to keep me engaged. But I never felt completely at home with it, or even that I completely got it.