Wednesday, 7 February 2001

Robert Rankin: The Antipope (1981)

Edition: Sphere, 1988
Review number: 744

Many fantasy authors attempt to mingle the familiar and the exotic in their writing; the familiar enables the reader to grasp what is going on, while the exotic is what defines the genre and what is sought by its fans. The familiar is supplied either by reference to the world around us, for example through the common device by which a normal person suddenly finds themselves in a world of magic, or by reference to the commonplace gestures of the genre.

In humorous fantasy, this combination of the mundane and the fantastic is frequently used for comic effect, by making it amount to more collision than a union between these elements. In Robert Rankin's first novel, beginning of one of my favourite series, this is very well done indeed. The mundane aspect is a pub in a mid-seventies suburb of West London. However much Brentford might appear to be a normal part of the city, it is only like that on the surface. In fact, it, and the Flying Swan pub in particular, forms the focus of all kinds of occult manifestations. Brentford actually exists, and was presumably much as described by Rankin in the sixties, at least before the Great West Road was turned into the M4.

The Antipope is about an attempt to take over the world from the Seaman's Mission in Brentford, built in the nineteenth century to house indigent sailors. Although the man who runs the establishment has successfully barred anyone from taking advantage of its facilities for some years, he is unable to resist a malevolent tramp, who not only moves in but radically transforms the Mission. Only Flying Swan regulars John O'Malley and Jim Pooley, with the aid of expert on the esoteric Professor Slocombe, can stop his fiendish plots.

The Antipope is, like the rest of the series, very funny and undemanding reading.

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