The thing about being on a blog tour is that it makes you engage with a book you might not be in the mood for. I picked up The Meal of Fortune having read a pretty dark thriller. I was in a serious mood and wanted something substantial. Instead, I read this – all 366 pages’ worth – in one sitting, and put it down with a smile on my face.
Philip Brady’s acknowledgements describe The Meal of Fortune as a ‘rather silly book’, and that’s about right. The plot is ridiculous, really ridiculous, Tom Sharpe ridiculous (but without the vulgarity). It moves at a speed that doesn’t encourage you to think about the plausibility of what you’ve just read. There are 72 chapters, plus a prequel and an epilogue, most of the endings of which provide a cliff hanger and/or a change in protagonist. Brady occasionally lifts the veil on how things are done – whether that’s how a secret agent – no, I mean a counter-intelligence operative (running joke alert!) – spots that she’s being tailed, or how a musician’s agent sets up a stunt for the paparazzi (but the client still has to catch the bus home), or how a loan shark deploys his muscle men, and these details, together with simple home truths about jealous ex-husbands help to ground us in his fantasy world.
I think I’ve seen this book described as a comedic thriller, but while there’s the odd bit of suspense the emphasis is firmly on the laughs. (More relentlessly so than Charles Harris’ The Breaking of Liam Glass which is similarly farcical but perhaps more serious in its satiric intent.) There are one or two riffs that I’m not sure about (they’re too self-conscious in a hey-here’s-something-funny kind of way) but Brady’s unafraid to try almost every type of joke he can think of. The best of these are excellent and in particular I’d like to see Brady given the chance to develop more daytime TV formats. There’s a gag about blue plastic twine which is for the ages.
I don’t know that I’m that bothered about Dermot, the male lead. He amuses but he isn’t that amusing. I don’t really care about his familial arrangements and I can’t get excited about the tension with cardboard-cutout ex-wife Sarah. But I do want him to get back together with Anna, the female lead. It says something when the spook who does something rather amazing in the climactic scenes is the most relatable character. She is at least trying to stay one step ahead of backstabbing boss Kate: their dynamic is a bit like that between Lana and Malory in Archer. (Dermot is no Sterling, though.)
But perhaps all that misses the point. The Meal of Fortune isn’t here to raise questions about the way in which we live (though it does remind us never to borrow from a loan shark if we can help it). It is, instead, a fine farce of fantasy; as the writer promised, a rather silly book, and in these troubled times, sometimes that’s better than serious.
Thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the blog tour, which included the provision of a review copy. Don’t forget the other blogs taking part in the tour too.