Book Review: Sprout Mask Replica by Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin is one of the masters of weird fiction, he was weird fictioning before anyone had heard of China Mieville and introduced them to the sub-genre. Rankin’s stuff doesn’t come much weirder than this, a novel mostly of tall tales that purport to be a biography of the family Rankin.

From an ancestor who died at Little Bighorn when he went to moan about how much noise they were making to other ancestors who died in tall tales such as the on who ate a motorbike to prove some obscure law of reality related to chaos theory.

The shaggy dog stories basically make up the majority of the plot and the story develops later on. The shaggy dogs aren’t so much shaggy dogs as they are careful (yet daft) interweaving. For many people, this will be understandably off-putting. Rankin’s work can be daft but until you’ve read this, you’ve seen nothing yet. If it isn’t those already mentioned shaggy dog stories, it’s daft poems that almost rhyme and are more outlandish than the narrative.

I can’t even explain what it was about. It’s all over the place and though it works, it’s more than a little frustrating to try to explain it and make it appealing. So, the plot, what there is of it, is wacky and out there. The only real drawback of this book is that it is all over the place but basically it is about Robert (it’s an autobiography) being approached by a secret government organisation who want me to sit in a room and come up with ideas. This, presumably, was because of his weird family history. That’s it, the wackier the better. And then he meets Barry The Talking Sprout. It’s a kind of a family companion, a guardian angel if you like, and it knows all of his family history.

Whenever I read Rankin’s earlier work it very quickly reminds me why I always preferred his newer stuff. Sorry Robert, you’re a lovely guy and a good laugh when you’re flogging your books at collector’s fairs, but this one was a little too weird for my tastes. Readers of his also know that he strays very close to breaking the PC barrier, but it’s all in good fun and not designed to offend anyone. Tales of social awkwardness leading to some disastrous encounters with attractive women, to putting one’s foot in it as a matter of course, this is Rankin at his wackiest and most outrageous.

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