Snuff Fiction by Robert Rankin
Published in 1999
Genre: Science fiction, alternative history, satire
“The school keeper’s name was Mr. Blot.”
Are you a self-professed anglophile (someone who really likes England)? Enjoy satire and witty writing? Don’t mind the British slang word for cigarettes in that context or have no idea what that means? If any of these statements apply then Snuff Fiction by Robert Rankin is the book for you! Now that this awkward introduction in the inexplicable form of a sales pitch is over, let’s get to the meat of it.
Snuff Fiction takes place in the future…of the time the book was written (to be specific, the story takes place in 2008; temporal context is going to be important here). Y2K actually happened and computers around the world crashed causing the dissolution of society. The narrator introduces these elements and explains that this book is the biography of the most prolific personality of the 20th century: the Doveston.
The narrator goes by the name Edwin and brings the story back to when he and the Doveston became friends in the 1950s, shortly before being assigned to write the biography of his “bestest friend.” The Doveston introduces Edwin to some strange characters and creatures including a professor who created Chimeras, which are carnivorous plants that come into play later in the book. The Doveston becomes obsessed with the tobacco industry and decides to “mentor” Norman, the son of a local candy store owner.
The three friends have a hand in many pop culture icons and events; the Doveston invents the stereotypical teenage party (he also tricks Edwin into hosting the party and kills Edwin’s dog, Biscuit, by sticking lit dynamite where the sun don’t shine), Norman invents the yo-yo and the Doveston gives it its name, and they hold Brentstock, which is the British version of Woodstock that ends with all of the concertgoers being inexplicably drugged. Throughout all this time, the Doveston talks of a secret government plotting against him.
Edwin is sentenced to 17 years in prison for taking the fall in the drugging of Brentstock in order to spare the Doveston. While Edwin rots, the Doveston amasses fame and fortune in the tobacco business and sends press clippings to the prison so that Edwin can continue collecting material for the biography while he builds a following.
Edwin serves his time and becomes the sole heir when the Doveston dies in a freak dynamite accident. The Doveston leaves all of his money to Edwin on the condition that he must have an extravagant Y2K New Years Eve party that will entertain the titans of industry and celebrity as detailed in the will. Edwin follows through but figures out **Spoiler Alert** that the entire purpose of the party is to kill off the members of the secret government who make up the majority of those in attendance. Explosives that were primed to go off when the national grid failed are triggered when the computers crash, ridding the world of the secret government once and for all.
Or did they? There is a bit more that happens, but to detail it here would ruin the surprise and do a disservice to Rankin’s work. Instead, I’ll talk about the craft present in the book.
Language and political correctness both come up in the novel which is appropriate since it was published in the era of political correctness in 1990s England. There is an abundance of British slang (especially the slang word for cigarettes which is used as a derogatory term for homosexuals here in the U.S.) and I attributed this to the fact that my copy is a U.K. edition. Rankin uses an ample amount of alliteration which tickled my fancy as a word nerd and made for a more interesting read.
If I have one critique of the book, it is due to some of the terminology used. At one point in the story, a pejorative term for a Mexican person is used by Edwin and I don’t know to whom I should attribute the term’s use. What I mean by this is that there are different voices present when reading a book; some of which are the author, the narrator, and the character. Usually the way a character speaks is due to a conscious decision made by the author, but since the character and narrator are the same person in Snuff Fiction the line blurs a bit and made me question it more than I usually would.
This is a story that pays off in the end if you pay attention to the little and seemingly insignificant moments. At the climax, Rankin ties back to much from the early part of the book and the ending gives the reader closure in a very clever way. It is a bit of a long read and a lot happens in those 361 pages, but the destination is well worth the journey.
Snuff Fiction is definitely one of the funniest books I have read in a while. The wit and cleverness of Rankin’s writing is found on every page and he continually keeps the reader intrigued with twists, turns, and turns of phrase. I chose this book because it was a stand alone story and if this book is indicative of the remainder of his work, I look forward to reading more of it.
Verdict: 5 amusing alliterations out of 5
Recommended for: Lovers of satire, those who thought Y2K would actually happen and want to see what might have happened next, fans of Terry Pratchett, readers who don’t mind and understand British slang, and you!
Not recommended for: People who aren’t in the least bit interested in conspiracy theories, those offended by S&M teapots like the one featured on the cover, The Doveston, Biscuit (poor, sweet Biscuit), or people who insist on being incessantly politically correct.