Preincarnate is not so much a novella as it is a whorl of ideas fashioned into a jauntily tipped hat, with said hat draped over a grassy barrow of anachronisms, with said anachronistic barrow then dug up by a French avante garde film director, given the cut-up treatment, and the subsequently marinated in a brine of whimsy. If none of that made any sense but you enjoyed reading it anyway, then welcome to Preincarnate, a fiendishly bizarre, unapologetically irreverent time travel story that makes Primer look comprehensible. Still, just like I did with Primer, I’m going to pretend that I had some idea what was going on.
(Well, not that it matters, really, since with the whole time travel conundrum business, we can argue what did or didn’t happen until the cows come home [actually, just about the only thing that Micallef hasn't included in this novella is cows, although there are plenty of badgers].)
As near as I can tell, Preincarnate is (mostly) about young Alexander Pruitt, who is killed by his dastardly family doctor, and whose spirit then jerks back several hundred years in time and takes up residence in the body of Oliver Cromwell’s son. Pruitt’s pause button is then hit for a good while so that enough time can pass that he can be woken up, and travel back in time to prevent himself from being killed. All of this is going on (and on and on and on given the whole time travel conundrum thing) while a good ol’ boy style part-time-PI-part-time-writer-with-Hollywood-connections is flailing about with mysterious notes written hundreds of years earlier and attempting to endure time spent with a karate-kicking, intellectually disjointed Tom Cruise. (Fortunately Cruise only reads L Ron Hubbard books, or else there might be a lawsuit pending.)
Preincarnate has a narrative in the sense that The Micallef Programme or Monty Python might have a narrative: there’s some sort of spine keeping the whole thing from crumbling apart like a cuttlefish with osteoporosis, but really it’s a sort of a comedic quilt of pieced-together skits. There are editorial battles in the footnotes; whimsical appendices of faux recommended reading items (eg Highlights in Australian Comedy by Balthazard Reed [pamphlet]) and some fabricated Micalleffian books, each blurbed by The Age as being “a tour de force”; a sledgehammer destruction of the fourth wall (“a smugness that made you want to reach into the book and slap him”); some not-so-gentle ribbing of Dan Brown and Matthew Reilly; and a generous sprinkling of anachronistic absurdity and Holy Grail-esque zaniness. Sometimes it reaches sublime heights; at others it has that desperate-to-please feel of a later episode of the Simpsons, sort of like a dog that’s about to be put down but has taken to doing circus tricks to stave off the inevitable.
Although Tom Cruise is jumping the shark/couch the whole way through (and yes, he does indeed bring up that incident), I have to admit that the loopiness of the book for me did that in the last couple of chapters, although this weirdness does fit with Micallef’s tendency to stretch the chewing gum of a joke as far as it can before watching it snap back to hilarious, unhygienic effect. Temporal randomness and extrapolation aside, in all I had a bloody lot of fun reading this. And this line made me laugh and laugh and laugh:
“While I could stand on his shoulders and easily reach the top of the fence, then pull myself over, Gaff could not. If he stood on my shoulders, he’d kill me; and standing on his own shoulders, while not impossible given that he could remove his legs, would only get him halfway up.”
Rating: (very good)
With thanks to Hardie Grant Australia for the review copy (and to Shaun for signing it. Woo!)
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