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Tancredi by James Palumbo

Tancredi by James Palumbo

Let your next book be a revelation.

That was my plea to Bret Easton Ellis when I reviewed Imperial Bedrooms.

We shall see whether the next book he writes is a revelation.

What I can say is that the next book I read absolutely was.

Here is a video of the author doing his best to undersell it. His summary is accurate but he doesn’t appear to share my enthusiasm for his creation.

Basically, our eponymous hero is disillusioned with the short term thinking that characterises life on earth. So he leaves the planet on a noble quest to save the galaxy from an impending supernova.

But the galaxy offers little solace in return. Far from it.

Through an increasingly bizarre series of circumstances he finds himself on a series of planets, each of which specialises in a ludicrously extreme form of exactly the kind of lunacy he hoped to leave behind.

It is a highly imaginative satirical fantasy.

Its lyrical prose pulls no punches.

For example we have the gamification of ASBO kudos.

Although the MoronOmeter was intended as a life-enhancing technology, it actually encouraged the behaviour is sought to prevent. Just as pigs love filth, morons revel in their condition. The global brotherhood of swearers, alcoholics, drug takers and trouble makers were at last united with a purpose – who could be the most moronic? Foulness was now something at which to excel. Soon there was a Moron Master League, in which armies of the professionally unemployed battled to secure the honorific conferred by this machine.

On the planet Scoop, Tancredi asks an ever so slightly rhetorical question.

“Rooting through rubbish like a pig,” he said, “you call that journalism?”

But the character to whom the question is addressed really is a man-pig, and he really is rummaging through landfill in search of a story.

Then there’s the planet Correctomondo…

“You’re on Correctomondo,” he began, “a planet dedicated to political correctness.”

The two main political parties on Correctomondo are engaged in a battle to occupy a middle ground characterised by platitudinous statements and a visceral aversion to any kind of nettle-grasping long term thinking around the real issues. Sound familiar?

Witness the policy proposed in response to an isolated playground accident.

Because we lack the zeal to regulate conker competitions. Yet clearly this is what’s needed – full protective clothing, conkers assessed for size and strength in relation to the ages of children competing. All to be supervised by an adult monitor trained in physics, with passports produced by children to match them against same age competitors, written permission from parents, paramedics at hand. The Law to encompass exclusion for any gathering of less than fifty children to ensure  proper organisation. All competitions to be booked with local authorities three months in advance with suitable risk assessment and venue allocation determinants.

Many a true word spoken in fantasy satire.

In a surreal twist, Josef Stalin makes a cameo appearance, cast not as a brutal dictator but as a heroic revolutionary making a timely intervention to cut through the madness.

Greatness no longer exists. It has been abolished alongside ideology. Everything has coalesced into the middle. Caesar is no longer a general – he’s a manager.

Maybe there had once been a role for greatness in public life, but not any more. Politics was a profession. Politicians had no other “job”. You did your time, after which you wrote a biography filled with obvious insights and remorse for opportunities missed. Then you filled your boots with appropriate sinecures. This was the way of things.”

And on Ylang Ylang we learn that anything – anything – can be monetised.

The extraordinary beauty of the planet seemed to Tancredi to be at odds with the poverty of the people they passed. He interrupted his host’s reverie to enquire about this surprising contradiction. “You have a sharp eye,” Soloman roared, slapping him on the back as if they were old friends, “but if we weren’t destitute we wouldn’t get funding… […]… Ylang Ylang is the custodian of the Galaxy’s guilt. We embrace it, my friend. Politicians and pop stars come here to emote against a backdrop of bloated bellies and beautiful staring eyes. Naturally, we charge a fortune for this service.

This book is an embarrassment of barbed creative riches.

Surprising and original.

Everything that Imperial Bedrooms wasn’t.

Differentiation should be taught at school; it was superior by far to science, maths or history.

So say all of us.


Having finished the Tancredi review I checked out James Palumbo on Twitter.

I learned, to my surprise, that he was founder of Ministry of Sound in a previous life.

But that was all I learned.

He is the exact opposite of Bret Easton Ellis.

His book explores new creative territory.

But his tweets are protected. Exactly why I’m not sure because it looks as though there aren’t actually any tweets to protect.

In contrast, I humbly suggested that the latest book from Bret Easton Ellis was an exercise in treading water from a creative point of view.

But his Twitter feed is a revelation.

Aside over.




One comment

  1. Pingback: Book Review - TANCREDI by James Palumbo

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