Book Review: The Antipope by Robert Rankin

I really enjoy Robert Rankin’s work. He’s a very funny and charismatic man; I’ve met him at book signings at least twice. The first time was when he sold me a copy of Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse and said if I was only pretending to be a fan to get a signed copy, I could sell it on ebay for £20. For me, HCBotA remains his best work. The Antipope is his first work. Does it smack of things to come?

In some ways it does. The plot it silly. Two typically Rankin ne’er-do-wells lead a rather mundane West London life in Brentford, drinking, working and not much else. When one of these particular not very esteemed gentlemen sells his wife’s car for some magic beans, all hell breaks loose – literally – when they grow into mythical homunculi. A tramp claiming to be Pope Alexander VI (the dastardly Rodrigo Borgia) is behind a plot to conquer the world and the beans are his way of doing it.

Rankin’s humour is typically manic and daft, full of references to pop culture, politics, social commentary and general weirdness and some stuff that is just out there. This is instantly recognisable as what we have come to expect with Rankin, but it doesn’t all work. I’ll be the first to admit I struggled with this. Rankin’s style and tone is not to everybody’s taste, and I personally find it very hit and miss. I’m afraid that this was one of his misses, but there’s nothing to worry about – he was still finding his feet and as a first novel it’s not all that bad.

Most of all, I didn’t find it all that funny. Rankin’s work is often fully of witty one liners and blink and you miss it tongue in cheek references. There didn’t seem to be that many, what there was just seemed a little forced and a bit too out there. It felt quite slapstick and slapstick is rarely my thing. This is the first in the Brentford Trilogy (a trilogy that in typical silly style, consists of not three books but by now – about seven).

Not bad but not great. I know that Rankin did better.

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