Romain Puértolas’ debut is a farce with a serious heart. An Indian fakir gets trapped in a wardrobe with ‘hilarious consequences’ which allows his character to meet various asylum seekers in various countries and, in turn, allows the reader to hear their stories. This is a novel about humanity, a novel about globalisation and the importance of universal compassion. I wish I could say I enjoyed it.
Maybe the humour got muddled in translation. There are certainly plenty of moments where you are left wondering whether a joke is highlighting racism or actually just a little bit racist. That is not a good thing really, not a good thing at all. The novel’s obvious intentions would suggest, strongly, that I was misreading the jokes but the Fakir is difficult to empathise with as a person because he is such a crazy crazy guy that you can’t help but picture him in Technicolor and his adventures choreographed to Yakety Sax, Benny Hill and a company of suspendered nuns chasing him around a silver birch on a private golf club’s front lawn. Every joke is turned up to eleven. Every action accompanied by a trombone going wah-wah-wah-wah.
Which is fine, if you like that sort of thing, except when the reader gets to the ‘serious’ bits they are not thinking about the characters as people but as larger-than-life comedy creations. You half expect someone to say, “The staff in the holding facility were awful… but I like them!”
So, thinking about it, I can’t blame the translation, can I? I have to blame the book. I have to but I don’t want to because I wanted to like the book. Immigration is an important subject and one where a sensible viewpoint struggles to get heard above xenophobic nonsense. The tactic of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an IKEA wardrobe is a sound one. I wanted to like it, but I didn’t.
Any Cop?: The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe has a heart of gold and, unfortunately, the light comic touch of an ITV sitcom.