Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Amberville, Tim Davys

HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-162512-1, 343 pages. First U.S. edition
First published in Swedish in 2007 by Albert Bonniers Forlag. Translated by Paul Norlen.

Let me say upfront that I enjoyed this book but it is also one of the oddest I've read in a while. It isn't a book that you can read literally. Amberville refers to one of four districts in Mollisan Town which is populated by living stuffed animals that have the bodily functions you attribute to living creatures. There is no attempt to relate the world of Amberville with our world, it just is.

I first thought that Amberville was going to be a crime story that used stuffed animals in place of humans. While it has noir and criminal element it turned out to be something very different.

I admired the way the author was able to establish a logical consistency within an absurd construct. If there was a world of animate stuffed animals this is how it might work. The animals are not born, they are delivered from the factory. The type of animals that the parents represent have no relationship to the type of children they receive thus Eric Bear and his twin Teddy are the children of a dog and a hippo. When animals wear out, their names appear on a Death List, the Chauffeurs pick them up, and they disappear forever. In between they go to school, grow up (mentally, they arrive from the factory the physical size they will always be), eat, sleep, drink too much and get hangovers, marry, and hold jobs.

Eric Bear is given an ultimatum by a former employer, the gangster Nicholas Dove. He is to find The Death List and remove Nicholas' name from it or Eric's wife Emma Rabbit will be torn apart by Dove's gorilla henchmen. Eric assembles the gang from his shady past to help him find the Death List. The gang consists of the violently unpredictable Tom-Tom Crow, Sam Gazelle who is into BDSM, and the untrustworthy Snake Marek. Together they try to find out the secret of the Chauffeurs and through them, they hope, the Death List.

Do not think that stuffed animals = children's book. This is most definitely not a book for children. It is an allegory that uses the Death List to critically examine religious belief and faith and duplicity within organized religion. Related themes include morality, loyalty, and what it means to be family. Viewed as an allegory, the reader can relate Amberville to our world without stumbling over the cast of stuffed animal characters.

I will be interested to see if the author returns to this world.


maxine said...

Sounds truly bizarre! Thanks for highlighting this unusual book in your review, I would not have considered reading it otherwise. Now, I am not sure, but I am thinking about it. It seems as if there aren't any Moomins in it. (Yes, I know, they are not Swedish! I should say, "it seems as if no Moomins have escaped over the border into this book".)

Mack said...

Thanks for the comment Maxine. I was a bit nervous reviewing this book. I haven't read much (or any) allegory since Spenser's The Faerie Queene at university an appallingly long time ago. "Here now, this is allegory" is what struck me as I read. I haven't looked at any reviews to verify that others think the same about it.

It is an interesting technique to deliver serious discussion on faith and disillusionment through stuffed animals.

Dorte H said...

I don´t read allegories often, but have enjoyed a few. And in to some extend you could say he has done what Rowlings does in Harry Potter: made us believe that if there is a world of this kind, this is what it must be like. When an author is really capable of that, it is usually a great experience, I think.

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, this *does* sound odd, different and therefore, unique. Like Maxine, I wouldn't normally consider this, but maybe now....