I bring you a big by one of my favourite writers, who’s been having some fun…
Fun with Dick by John Dolan
Twenty-five-year-old Richard Blackheart – geek, wage slave and Superman wannabe – seems destined for a life of dull obscurity.
Then one day he hits upon an idea for the ultimate non-self-help book, ‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and things start to change …
‘Fun with Dick’ is a heart-wrenching, hilarious and harrowing tale of one man’s struggle against gravity and cats. It is not recommended for people who are easily triggered. If you do read it, keep your shrink’s phone number handy.
About the author:
“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”
John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.
He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy.
I have read and reviewed all the books John Dolan has published so far (you can check my most recent review here), and you’d be forgiven for thinking that, after seven (well, eight, as he also co-authored one) books, he wouldn’t be able to surprise me any longer. Well, wrong! I kept reading the book and wondering what I was missing. Things couldn’t be quite as simple as they appeared. Of course, they couldn’t.
This is a novel that would be perfect for a book club because there are tonnes of things to discuss, but the book club would need to be pretty special. Some of the topics that are mentioned in the book, even if not described in detail or explicitly, would put off (or even trigger) some readers; and the novel is a nightmare for those who are sticklers for political correctness, because, humour or not, it is extremely dark, and it takes no prisoners. The cast of characters seems recruited from a variety of books in different genres: a Jewish psychiatrist, a bullying and unkind sister; an extremely overweight and lazy friend; the mother of said friend, who is a bit of a cougar (or a lot, as the protagonist knows only too well); a dismissive boss and a bunch of peculiar work colleagues working for the games’ industry; a girlfriend who is more interested in her ex than in the protagonist; and a central character called Dick Blackheart, who dreams of being a superhero with special powers but appears to be a looser. A passing conversation convinces him that he should write a pretty special non-self-help book (‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and the title is quite indicative of the content, although perhaps not of how truly extreme the advice is), and somehow that seems to help him focus. Shortly after, things take a turn for him, seemingly a downward trend, and he makes a decision. He is going to travel to Thailand with his friend Nigel, who will serve as his experimental subject for the book, and finish it. And perhaps…
I won’t try to go into every single detail of the book, because readers should go into it without clear expectations and see what they make of it. I’ve mentioned the issue of the sensitive topics (the list is too long to include, but I’d suggest that if you can think of a taboo topic, it is quite probably there, or close to it), and the novel is narrated in the first person, so that might not suit everybody’s taste. Dick’s dead-pan style is very peculiar, and in a way, it makes his adventures, and his efforts at keeping up his mood and looking on the bright side, all the more affecting. Yes, there are very funny moments, although many of them are cringe-worthy as well. You are both laughing and horrified at your own laughter at the same time. You feel sorry for Dick and appalled by some of the things he says and writes. Is he joking or is he in earnest? There are subjects and topics most of us wouldn’t dare to joke about, but that does not seem to be the case for Dick. Why? He seems a pretty mild individual when we meet him, harmless, and unlucky when it comes to the things that make life shine. But be warned. You read on at your own peril.
I liked the way the protagonist drags us in, and we can’t help but watch as things unravel. We might feel appalled, dismayed, and disgusted, but somehow we need to accompany Dick in his trip of self-discovery (or self-revealing) until the very end. The extracts from his book are a must-read, and Nigel’s mother is quite a character, and not the only one. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance of David Braddock, the main character in the author’s other series. He wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world. The book seems to move from a pretty light beginning into darker and darker depths, and it takes a very skilled writer to pull the trick off and not lose the readers in the process. It also takes a pretty daring one. Oh, and I love the ending as well.
I don’t have any dislikes, other than the fact that the book is quite short, but that might work in its favour as it increases its impact, and I am not sure that most readers would have wanted things to get even darker (especially not at a moment like the one we’re living).
I recommend this book to Dolan’s fans, although with the warning that it is darker than most of his other work (or perhaps it appears so because it’s all packed in a very short length because, despite the sharp humour, the other novels are not easy reads either). Many sensitive subjects appear in its pages (trauma, parental loss, bullying, child abuse, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and more…), so it needs to be approached with caution. It is a fantastic read, and I recommend those who might harbour doubts about it, to check a sample, and see how they feel. It is not an ordinary novel, and I’m sure I won’t forget it any time soon. If ever.
Thanks to John for another fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and take care!