The jacket flap of this delightfully surreal book claims it’s “equal parts Monty Python and Roald Dahl,” which, to my mind, is no laughing matter: that’s some serious humor and oddity they’re evoking. How could one not approach this book with incredibly high expectations?
Thankfully, Kennedy does not disappoint.
Jo was left in the washing machine of washed-up actress Lily Larouche’s desert palace when she was a baby. Left with her was this note: “This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a dangerous baby.” Thirteen years later, Jo has shown no signs of dangerousness; in fact, with Aunt Lily’s heath (and sanity) waning, Jo’s pretty much taken over running the household. Until one Christmas Eve, when things go, well, wacky, and get infinitely more complicated. Jo meets Colonel Anatoly Korsakov and his sidekick Sefino (who just happens to be a 3½-foot-tall talking cockroach); a black box drops out of the sky, addressed to her; and she meets her nemeses (of sorts), Ken Kaing and The Belgian Prankster. They all (somehow) manage to make their way to Eldritch City, where Jo discovers that Lily, Korsakov and Jo’s parents were all part of The Order of the Odd-Fish, and that (just perhaps) Jo really is as dangerous as the note implies.
Actually, while I was in the middle of all the zany action and weirdness that was this book, the thought that popped into my mind was that it’s not so much a Monty Python-Roald Dahl hybrid as it is a weird love child of Douglas Adams and J.K. Rowling. Jo is Arthur Dent/Harry; Lily is Ford Prefect/Hagrid; and a group of friends Jo meets once she gets to the Odd-Fish could fill the roles of Ron and Hermione (as well as Ford and Trillian). There are a couple of delightfully grumpy people who are dead-on Marvins … you get the picture. That may be a criticism for some, but I found that once I pegged the humor and made the comparisons, the book became that much more enjoyable.
The only real drawback of the book is that this is the sort of humor that should be shared with someone, to elbow them at the right moments, or read a passage aloud to savor them. In addition, it’s also much like The Hitchhiker’s Guide in that it’s almost a lot more fun to talk about this book than it is to read it. (Additionally, hearing this book read aloud might be more conducive to the humor in it…) So, in the interest of sharing the laughs, I’ll leave you three of the passages where I actually laughed — hooted, snorted, guffawed — out loud:
“Ken Kiang laughed diabolically! Then he stopped, disappointed: no, his laugh wasn’t quite diabolical. He made a mental note to practice his diabolical laughter for fifteen minutes a day. The devil, he knew, was in the details.
“Jo threw up her hands. ‘This is ridiculous! You’re not even trying to be right?’ At this rebuke Sir Oort halted, grew grave, and drew himself up; for a moment, he radiated a kind of majesty; then he spoke, in tones both severe and inspiring, and his awkward voice rang out like a bell. ‘As an Odd-Fish, it is not my job to be right,’ said Sir Oort. ‘It is my job to be wrong in new and exciting ways.’ ”
For the next one, you need the description of the character first: “Oona Looch was a mannish, square-jawed woman, about sixty years old, mammoth but not fat, a stout giant of muscle and bone. Her bald skull was gouged with scars, her nose and ears seemed nailed on, and her smile revealed she had no teeth at all.”
“ ‘You disgust me, Fipnit!’ shouted Oona Looch. ‘You don’t do anything for me as a woman. You don’t know how to treat a lady! One of these days, Fipnit, I’m gonna sit on you! And then I’ll forget about you. … Maybe a few weeks later I’ll pick you out of my behind and say, ‘Well! There’s Fipnit! So that’s where he went!’ Then I’ll throw you away. What a tragic end to a beautiful romance!’
“ ‘Meep,’ said Fipnit.”
Wacky, weird, zany, unusual, off-kilter, and, yes, odd. You shouldn’t miss it.
Rated: Mild: Extreme grossness and mild swearing.