Thursday, 21 May 2009

Good to be God, by Tibor Fischer

I was happy to be asked to review Tibor Fischer's most recent novel as part of a blog tour as I was captivated by Under the Frog, and The Thought Gang is one of my favourite novels, a book that I have recommended to countless people.

It is difficult to review Good to be God without giving away the plot, so let me just say that it is a tale of stolen identities, and fake religion veering into organised crime. Standard Fischer fare, then, an anarchical story shot through with black humour. I thouroughly enjoyed reading it.

I think the problem for me with Fischer is that The Thought Gang is so very good that it stands head and shoulders above anything else he has written. It is also very different, though this latest book is probably closest to it in style. This raises the question: was TTG just a briliant idea, brilliantly executed but essentially unique and unrepeatable, or has Fischer been deliberately experiementing with different ideas and styles in the meantime? Since he is clearly a novelist endowed with exceptional technical skills, one is prepared to believe the latter, but if so then he really should concentrate on what, I believe, he does best.

Personally I hated Voyage to the End of the Room, and The Collector Collector wasn't much better; interesting ideas do not not necessarily translate well into full length novels. Intriguingly, Fischer's situation may parallel that of Quentin Tarantino, who is attempting to kick-start his career with the release of Inglourious Basterds at the Cannes Film Festival. I think my reaction to Good to be God is similar to the assessment of the critics who have seen the film: that it has enough touches of Tarantino's genius to resuscitate his reputation, but that it is still not up to the standard of his earlier masterpieces.

I cannot believe that Fischer is really a one-trick pony. He is far too good a novelist for that, certainly one of the best English novelists of the last twenty years. I believe that he may be like Picasso, so bored with existing conventions once having mastered them at an early age that he feels the need constantly to be exploring new territory. That's fine, but you need to take your audience with you. Perhaps it is this realisation that has brought him back towards Thought Gang territory. So, like the Tarantino critics, I think this book shows that he still has what it takes, but it leaves me only half-convinced.

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