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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

“Amberville” by Tim Davys (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Tim Davys is a pseudonym for a Swedish writer. “Amberville” is his or her first novel and is the first book in the Mollisan Town Quartet.

PLOT SUMMARY: Eric Bear has it all: a successful career, a beautiful wife, a blissful home. He knows he's been lucky—a while back, his life revolved around drugs, gambling, a gang of stuffed-animal thugs, and notorious crime boss Nicholas Dove.

But the past isn't as far away as Eric had hoped and one day he is enlisted for one final job—to get Nicholas Dove off of the Death List. If Eric fails, his beloved wife, Emma Rabbit, will be torn apart, limb by limb.

The problem is, nobody knows if the Death List really exists. So Eric gathers together his team from the old days and embarks on a search where he learns that nothing in his world is as it seems...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 343 pages divided over twenty-seven chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is mostly in the third-person via Eric Bear and his old gang including Tom Tom Crow, Sam Gazelle and Snake Marek. There are several chapters though that feature first-person narratives including Teddy Bear, someone described as ‘Twilight’, Hyena Bataille, Emma Rabbit and other minor characters. “Amberville” is self-contained but is the first book in the Mollisan Town Quartet.

February 24, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Amberville” via
Harper and was translated by Paul Norlen. “Amberville” was first published in Sweden in 2007 by Albert Bonniers Förlag. I believe a UK edition will be published in August 2009 via Random House UK.

ANALYSIS: Tim Davys’Amberville” is a difficult book to review. For starters, the novel was nothing like what I thought it would be. Based on the cover description and what few author blurbs I had read, I was expecting something in the vein of Charlie Huston or maybe Chuck Palahniuk. I was completely wrong. So my advice to anyone who decides to venture into the world of “Amberville”: keep an open mind

Secondly, I have no clue how one would go about classifying “Amberville”. At the core of the book is a mystery—several actually—that drive the narrative until the very end. But at the same time there’s also drama, of both a personal and familial nature; a sprinkle of crime noir; and a surprising amount of thought-provoking philosophy on good vs. evil and existentialism:

Evil is impossible without goodness. Evil seeks balance, it seeks a symmetry. Evil is social, because it only exists in an opposing relationship. Goodness is self-sufficient. It needs no one, nothing. I can be good on my own. But to manifest evil requires a counterpart.”

And then there’s the fantasy element—the fact that there are no people in “Amberville”. Instead the world, which in almost every way resembles our current one, is populated by stuffed animals. Stuffed animals who go to work, get married, love, cheat, become addicted to drugs, steal, hate, and so forth. In other words, these stuffed animals are just like humans except for two things: the way they are brought into the world and the way they leave.

Basically, stuffed animals are manufactured and are delivered to their parents—who by the way might be a Rhinoceros and a Boxer raising a Bear—by Deliverymen via a Cub List. Cubs are the same size then as they are when adults, the main difference being that Cubs can’t do anything yet like thinking, talking, etc. That’s where the parents come in. On the flipside is a Death List. If a stuffed animal’s name appears on the Death List, then they can expect to be taken away by a red pickup and never seen from again. Of course, the Death List is just a myth . . . or is it?

Because of the stuffed animals, there’s automatically something unique about “Amberville”, but don’t get the wrong idea—the stuffed animals are much more than a flashy gimmick. On the contrary, the author imbues Mollisan Town and its inhabitants with so much depth and realism—including the architecture and personality of the city and its four districts (Amberville’s bourgeois prosperity; Tourquai’s hectic urban life; Lanceheim, a city within a city; Yok, the problem area), a society that revolves around the Cub/Death List, et cetera—that you’ll start to believe that such a world actually exists somewhere…

The third reason that “Amberville” is difficult to review is because of the writing. On the one hand, it’s quite obvious that Tim Davys is an adept writer—at least as far as I can tell given that the U.S. version of “Amberville” is a translation—highlighted by a rich imagination, superb characterization, smooth prose and incredible flexibility which is evident by drastically different character voices and the way he easily handles various writing styles (first/third-person narratives, etc.). For example:

Noah Camel:can’t understand it can’t understand it can’t understand how someone can want to cause such pain such pain such pain and tears don’t help because I’m freezing ‘cause it’s cold it’s always cold cold but I’m not freezing down to the marrow and stuffing and this cold hurts so bad it hurts so bad

Eric Bear:The first time he saw her she was standing in front of a window that looked out over the sea. In her smile was a challenge he couldn’t resist. She was dressed in white. It was as though the image of Emma Rabbit was composed by an advertising agency. It was though he’d discovered her. It is said that love conquers all. It does.”

Emma Rabbit:The old lady who’s staring at the guppy can’t possibly be under sixty-five, and what does she think? That she looks like she did in her fifties? It’s tragic. When I turn fifty I hope I’ve aged with dignity. I’ll keep my head high, dress like a lady, and try not to cling to my youth as though I wasn’t finished with it. As if youth wasn’t already lived and completely, thoroughly explored. I’m not a stuffed animal who looks back. What has been, has been, and will never come back. I can’t understand those who go over and over all their old injustices, bitter about things that have happened, things that you can’t do anything about anyway.”

On the other hand, there were a couple of idiosyncrasies that detracted from the reading experience. One was the author’s tendency to merge multiple point-of-views into a single narrative. This was most apparent when the novel focused on Eric Bear and his friends—Tom Tom Crow, Sam Gazelle and Snake Marek. The other peculiarity was the story itself which at times is difficult to follow because the main narrative is so frequently interrupted by flashbacks, philosophical musings, large amounts of background information, and seemingly unrelated tangents. Fortunately, the story is quite gripping driven by compelling mysteries, and everything ties neatly together and makes sense at the end…

In the end, Tim Davy’sAmberville” is unusual, possesses idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to, and is hard to classify and review . . . but that’s all part of its unique charm. Because “Amberville” is like no other book you’ve ever read before and the experience it offers is a refreshingly different one, thought-provoking, surprisingly insightful, and ultimately enriching. I loved it…


book publishers said...

Got a chance to read Amberville on vacation...stunning piece of literature, would highly recommend.

Anonymous said...

I like the term crime noir - perfectly describes this book which I love. Reminds me of Raymond Chandler a little bit.


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