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Sep 2007
The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk - David Ambrose - Pocket Books, 2005
* * * *
Writers, being solitary and domestic creatures, probably spend more time than most listening to the radio, which may explain why the rather marvellous I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue is having an undue influence on them. It has a game called “One Song to the Tune of Another” which is an apt metaphor for an increasingly common style of literary composition in which the narrative devices of one genre are married to the thematic concerns of a different one. This is nothing new, of course; SF writers have often chosen detectives, spies or law-enforcers, and their associated plot-tropes, to explore their invented worlds, and conversely any mainstream writer who wants to be seen as trendy will spice up their depictions of everyday life with fantasy, science fictional, detective or thriller elements (David Mitchell, Iain Banks, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood).

Such literary cross-breeding has its dangers as well as its benefits. The result can be a feeble creature, lacking the narrative energy or pleasing story shape of either of its parents (am I the only one who gets a bad feeling when a novel is described on its back cover as “unclassifiable”?). On the other hand, it can also result in some welcome variations on tired old themes. This book, which mixes philosophical ideas into a techno-thriller storyline, does suffer from a dilution of its fundamental form, but on the whole comes out ahead.
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