Sprout Mask Replica
by Robert Rankin
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robert Rankin's satirical novel Sprout Mask Replica purports to be Rankin's autobiography, although told is an extremely odd manner. Although the book contains a plot, the majority is filled with short humorous vignettes about Rankin's mythical ancestors and their circle of acquaintances, the best of whom are eccentric and move towards odd.
Among these characters are the Crombies, several generations of whom eat metal, and Rankin's various uncles who are just this side of insane. When Rankin reveals himself to have the powers of the chaos butterfly, the revelation (sorry, REVELATION) comes as an indictment of the messianism which permeates many cults and mainstream religions. Nevertheless, Rankin seems unwilling to fully and openly attack religion, one method of watering down his satire.
Another way Rankin effectively dilutes his satire is by writing a novel which would be at home amongst other pieces of the theatre of the absurd. So much of what happens in the novel is so far from plausible and breaks from the straight narrative, that it is frequently difficult to see any rhyme or reason in the tales Rankin is stringing together, almost as a series of vignettes (although most are linked later in the novel).
Rankin also includes several threads concerning conspiracy theory, ranging from secret government agencies to Area 51 in Nevada. By including so many different threads in his novel, Rankin is trying to cover too much ground, with the result that Sprout Mask Replica is too scattered and haphazard to really strike any of its targets head on.
Sprout Mask Replica makes heavy use of metafiction which is perhaps the most successful aspect of the novel. Not only are the characters aware of their existence within the book, but they are aware of thought processes other characters are having and some even can see what happens several pages further in the book.
Rankin also makes too much use of the old Monty Python cheesehop sketch, although in this case with a bakery and a bar (two separate occurences) and again with an hat. Although humorous when the Pythons did it nearly thirty years ago, the re-telling of the joke in a book tends to wear thin.
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