I’m going to cut and paste something from my review of a book about Peter Cook, Tragically I was an Only Twin, because it feels pretty applicable to Micallef: “…stream of consciousness surreal pants-wettingly funny verbosity…’Whereas other people breathe, Peter talks.’” The latter (nice) line isn’t mine, but reading and seeing Micallef gives that impression – an inundation of almost random and constantly funny connections. Moreover his expression is often up there with Wodehouse, and that’s about as good as it gets.
Mostly I’ve seen Micallef in bites – such as the fabulous Smithereens, or in sketch comedies. Newstopia was a triumph, giving some unity in the News show format, but also free rein to dive from topic to topic. Welcher and Welcher was probably as disciplined as I’ve seen him have to be, maintaining the same (albeit chaotic) character and setting.
After a couple of chapters of Preincarnate my hopes were really high: was I really to get all the joy of Micallef’s humour and writing style combined with an interesting and workable narrative? For me, for example, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a high point in Douglas Adams’ output for doing just this. But after a couple more chapters I was less hopeful, and by the end the book – as a book – had just become a mess. Hey, still an enjoyable mess – even as random tangents Micallef is always worth a listen – but it was sad he didn’t manage to maintain the discipline of a coherent structure. Coherent doesn’t have to mean unimaginative: how many great SF books contain at least six impossible things, but work within their own parameters (again, Adams pulls this off so well in Dirk Gently – I love the solution to the couch paradox – far better than the meanderings of (the undoubtedly wonderful - but not in terms of structure) HGTTG). I would have preferred it for most of the material in this book if Micallef had have kept to the Smithereens miscellany without the failed pretence of a guiding narrative. And I really could have done without the self-aware comments about what the author might be trying to pull off here and there: sure this can work (as in Calvino’s wonderful – and, back then, original, If On A Winters Night A Traveller) but these days it’s overdone (Foer, McEwan et. al.) and here it was just too cheap – as if Micallef himself was admitting that he had given up on this whole book idea.
So it probably deserves more than my ‘B’ if you just zoom in on the trees, but I was so hoping for the woods as well this time. Both emotions were there, but for at least the last third of the book disappointment was a stronger feeling than pleasure.