The Book of Dave is set in one place and
two different time periods; the place is London, the time
periods are the present day and 500 years in the future. In the present day, Dave
Rudman becomes an emotional wreck when his wife leaves him for
another man, taking his son with him. Fuelled by a psychotic
mania he writes a rambling, vitriolic book - part diary, part
personal history, part London cab driver arcana and part
misogynistic rant. He buries the resulting tome in his wife's backyard in the
up market suburb of Hamstead Heath.
500 years later, global warming has reduced London to a series of small islands, one of which is the Isle of Ham occupied by the Hamsters who, discovering the buried Book of Dave, embrace it as a holy text to be adhered to with cultish rigidity. Thus "mummies" and "daddies" don't live together (and there are strict penalties for any found to be doing so); childcare is split 50:50 with unmarried females known as "opares" taking care of the children during "daddytime"; the days are measured in tariffs, souls are known as "fares", the sun is "foglamp", the Hamsters' religion is Dävinanity and Dave is forever watching over his people in the "Rearview".
The Book of Dave has been lauded by reviewers as Self's best book yet; however it will not be to everyone's taste. In order to help you decide which side of the fence you might land on, here are two cautionary notes:
Five hundred years into the future, the English language has evolved from today's language to about the same degree that English today has evolved from Shakespeare's time 500 years ago. The author supplies a short dictionary of English-Arpee/Mokni words (Mokni and Arpee being the two dialects we encounter) but it is rarely necessary to use it. Most of the future story is written in "Mokni (combining cockney slang, text messaging and London cabby slang) which, when read phonetically, is not only easy to comprehend but filled with ironic humor. However, it still requires more effort than some will want to make, especially American readers for whom today's British-English slang is a foreign language in itself!
"Wot chew fink, Carl, she asked him, reel aw toyist? Carl took the Davework from her; his thumb traced the edge, once jagged but now smoothed by its millennia-long meander through the lagoon since the MadeinChina. He looked closely at the mark for the shapes of phonics."
If you can get the gist of what is said above (and more importantly appreciate the satirical humor of it) you'll be in good shape to take on the half of The Book of Dave which is set in the future (and for that matter some of the slang dialogue in the parts set in the present). Here is a translation just in case!
"What d'you think, Carl, she asked him, real or fake? Carl took the Davework (plastic fragments deposited in the sea by Dave at the beginning of the world, worn as charms) from her, his thumb traced the edge, once jagged but now smoothed by its millennia-long meander through the lagoon since the creation of the world. He looked closely at the mark for the shapes of letters."
Another word of warning about The Book of Dave - those who feel that questioning religious doctrine is no laughing matter will be well advised to steer clear. To quote the author, The Book of Dave "is arguing that what you need for a revealed religion is any old bollocks, it just has to be there in the right place at the right time."
Putting these two points aside, The Book of Dave is a wickedly clever satirical novel that presents a humane and fallible protagonist (Dave) in a funny, albeit sometime depressing, vision of our possible future. As always, don't take our word for it, instead read a substantial excerpt (exclusive to BookBrowse) representing both the present and future storylines, and decide for yourself whether The Book of Dave is for you.
This review was originally published in December 2006, and has been updated for the November 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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