The time I asked Shaun Micallef a question


A book review of sorts.

Back in 2010 I went to the launch of Shaun Micallef’s first work of fiction — a novella called ‘Preincarnate’ — at the Hi Fi in west End (hosted by Avid Reader). I’d been a big fan of Shaun’s ever since his show on the ABC in 1999. This piece of comedy gold I think it is fair to say — changed my life.

Anyway, there was a question and answer session and after two very bland and useless questions I decided to speak up. Crucially, I had a belly full of beer, which may or may not have influenced the fact I asked — a little bit too confidently — “So Shaun, you’re such a great guy — what’s your secret?”*

And I intended the question (that most extreme of sycophantic arse-licking) as something playful that he could deal with in that ‘character’ he assumed so often — demonstrated so amazingly in the clip above. Except he took the question quite seriously and seemed almost embarrassed. He then bumbled through a rambling, overly-humble and not-quite-funny response. Oh well. I still love you Shaun.

And so because I am genuinely lazy, forgetful and pretty much a philistine, it has taken me until last night to actually complete reading it.

And it’s quite a mindfuck of a book. I guess that’s the point of a novel dealing with time travel and revivification and soul-transference — and that’s all pretty much lumped on the reader just in the first chapter. And each chapter jumps back or forwards in time and leaps from character to character, I imagine to establish some deliberate state of confusion — something all the characters seem to be feeling at the same time you do.

See I like to think time travel in fiction is best dealt with in the Dr Who sense — which mostly ignore those paradoxes. And if you are going to go into paradoxes and conundrums, and talk about it and muddle over it — you’re best off doing it in a simple and illustrative way like in Back to the Future.

Someone once told me (and I have no idea if this is true) that there was this screening of Catch-22 and the theatre got the reels the wrong way around and played reel #1, then reel #3 and then reel #2. But no one complained and no one seemed any wiser.

And so this book is a bit like that screening.

Another element that fucked with my head was the proliferation of characters — obviously chucked at the reader for comedic value. And there’s also so much detail — again in the pursuit of gags (most of which are well worth the rabbit hole you get sucked into). But at the same time this was one reason I actually didn’t latch on to the narrator (who is not named —at least I don’t think so) until well into the book. And that was a bit tough on me — me being just a little Queenslander. About 100 pages in I was so bewildered I re-read the last 20 pages and was still perplexed.

It also didn’t help that I read it over two or three weeks – like 5 pages at a time. So I guess I have myself to blame for a fair chunk of that head-scratching.

But in saying all this — the story-telling and the gags were all fantastic. I actually finished it too — which says a lot — unlike the bookmark halfway through The Island of the Day Before which still sits in my bookcase either like a monument to my lack of perseverance or a telling critique. (Probably the former).

Thankfully it does all make sense at the end — kinda.

A solid 6.5 out of 10.

* I have a feeling Rob Sitch asked this of Peter Costello on the Panel once. Wha?