Saturday, 1 September 2007

Ian Sansom, The Mobile Library: The Case of the Missing Books (Harper, 2005)

The Mobile Library is the first in a series featuring “one of literature’s most unlikely detectives”, Israel Armstrong, a Jewish vegetarian sensitive type who arrives in a small Northern Irish village to take up a position that just might make his CV look passable. Everything that can go wrong does to wrong in his first twenty-four hours. Not least of his problems is that the books have gone missing, and in order to get out of his contract, he must find them.

Sansom is a very smart writer and there are many laugh-out-loud moments in the book. I like the twist of a Jew trying to navigate all the religious and political sensitivities in the North. I like the way this detective is an outsider. I like some of the characters in the book.

But I’m not sure that it is a sincere book. And sure, perhaps it is not meant to be. (I can just hear the cavils now about sincerity...but not to sound too much like one of Sansom's characters, you'll know it when you see it). It is a book that just screams something like “Postmodernity can be fun kids”, and I have at least three problems with such a statement. There are some genuine moments, certainly, but my overall impression was an unsettling sense of being manipulated by cleverness rather than invited to share in the playfulness.

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