In Absurdia is a curious novel. It’s also rather rather on-brand for this blog.
But how did I feel about it?
It’s a dizzying, disorientating piece of absurdist fiction that’s harder to pin down than an otter coated in vaseline. After finishing it, I needed a lie down. Conveniently, it was bed time.
At times it’s touching, sometimes hilarious, and other times, it’s really quite bizarre. I’m not entirely sure what just happened. And yet, I enjoyed the time I spent with Glenn Whalan’s debut novel.
*Disclaimer: I received a free advance reading copy from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In Absurdia is about a guy named Jack, who might be a dog, or a marmot, or a human being – possibly all three, maybe even at the same time – I honestly wasn’t entirely sure.
He’s created by ‘god’, aka a character named Funboy, for a laugh whilst drunk.
The novel is Jack/Gonzo Jack’s journey through multiple realities, searching for an objective meaning that he’ll never be satisfied by.
Or at least, that’s how I read it.
In any case, the novel is about the interpretation of meaning and reality, so I guess this is the reality I arrived at with In Absurdia!
The earth wobbles on its axis, tides are torn this way and that. The solar system laughs at the absurdity, the galaxy hardly notices, the universe is unaware. Ultimately, nothing gives a flying rat’s ass.’
In Absurdia, Glenn Whalan
The Good, the Bad, and the Absurd
One thing is certain – Whelan is a really good writer. I read In Absurdia in an eBook format, and as such, I found myself regularly underlining delightful turns of phrases and sentences. There’s some truly brilliant prose.
There’s a particular emphasis on mirror imagery and simulacra. Two realities sit opposite one another, divided by a mirror that – very occasionally – becomes transparent.
I particularly enjoyed the exchange between Jack and the waitress of the Number 105 Space-Time Restaurant. Declaring that Jack is in the wrong place, she tells him that he should actually be looking for the Number 501, the Time-Space Restaurant.
It’s ridiculous. It’s bonkers. It’s incredibly silly. But it’s great fun.
However, In Absurdia is a pretty complicated read. I probably have more questions than answers after finishing it, so I’m going to need to read it at least one more time in order to fully take it in.
At times, the novel flicks from 1st to 3rd person, character to character, and reality to reality.
And then you get some mind-bending gems like this:
“Question asks answer what I’m doing lying here. Answer replies she’s not sure.
“Perhaps you need to ask thought.”
Thought’s none the wiser and suggests question asks body. Body replies that if it knew, it wouldn’t be lying here either.
“Go and ask heart,” it says.
Heart is listening and is kind to question. “My feeling is that you’d be better off asking shadow.” But heart was mistaken – shadow was just in thought’s imagination.
Question became confused, argued with answer. Thought, body, and heart joined in and they quarreled till all were red in the face. Finally, and out of the blue sky someone called, “Two teapots full of milk!” ’
Expect passages like this in In Absurdia
It’s absurdist fiction, so confusion and disorientation are pretty commonplace, but even by absurdist standards, it was a challenging read. It was perhaps unnecessarily complicated in parts.
Part of the problem is that it’s a little obscure. Even the name ‘Funboy’ – what does it actually mean? It’s confusing, and deliberately so, because it’s absurdist fiction. That’s fair enough, but it does make the novel hard work for the reader.
Because of this, I think that the novel will be a difficult sell to anybody not familiar with absurdism, or even just existentialism. That’s not a criticism, but it is worth mentioning. For a novel that is only 222 pages long, In Absurdia is a dense book.
You’ll find yourself flicking back and forth between chapters, trying to piece things together. For some, that’s part of the fun, but others may find this frustrating.
Final Verdict ⭐⭐⭐
In Absurdia is an ambitious novel. It posits some interesting questions around our own existence and our place within the universe.
It’s fantastic fun, with some great prose and a wealth of existential humour.
But it’s held back by its inaccessibility and esoteric nature. I’m a fairly seasoned reader of existentialism and absurdism, but I even need to read In Absurdia again in order to fully appreciate it.
Would I recommend it? I’d say yes, tentatively, and only for those who enjoy quirky, experimental fiction.
Regardless, Glenn Whalan is definitely on my author radar, and I look forward to reading his future work.