Let’s begin with a banality, shall we? Some foods are nice and bad for you. Some foods are healthy and maybe, you know, not quite as enjoyable, on a purely visceral level, as the things that we know are bad for you. Right? Largely in agreement? Good. Okay. Let’s extend the idea a little further shall we? Some books are entertainment, and you can lap them up, and figuratively speaking they may not be good for you – in the sense that they may not make you any brighter than you were but, you know, you enjoy them all the same. Other books are more rigorous, more demanding, they provide a level of challenge – and we like those books, but they are not as straightforward, not as easy to digest, as those books that set out purely to entertain. Now, when someone mentions the publisher Dalkey Archive to us, we tend to think about books in that second camp. We don’t think of Dalkey Archive as publishers of airport books. We think of Dalkey Archive as a serious operation, with edification on the agenda. We don’t tend to think of Dalkey Archive books as fun (although they do publish Flann O’Brien, and we all know how much fun he can be). But with the publication of Seb Doubinsky’s Absinth we are seriously going to revise that opinion. Because Absinth is like healthy food in creamcake form. Let us explain.
What we have here is a short book, comprised of a great many short chapters, many of which revolve around three characters: Sid Saperstein, a publisher of pulp and porn, Iris, a would-be R&B singer and eventual fortune-teller, and Hermes, the Greek messenger god. Already you no doubt suspect that this is a humorous book. You’d be right. If you want to make bookish connections in your brain, think Kurt Vonnegut, think Terry Southern (particularly Blue Movie). Sid’s right hand man Marco has just made off with $50,000 at the behest of Sid’s wife who, we learn, is a bit fed up with Sid’s wandering ways. Sid’s father in law (who Sid owes money to) is calling in the chits and Sid is staring ruin in the face. Meanwhile Iris: Iris is drowning her sorrows in a fug of dope smoke, but the dope is giving her visions of the Biblical past (and Doubinsky brings those visions alive for us in the form of Moses coming down from the mountain, Noah refusing to help a young mother at the height of the flood etc) – visions that she eventually uses to start a new career. And Hermes – Hermes is travelling about, visiting various Gods about the world and discussing changes that they can see happening, changes they suspect will restore their pre-eminence in the world.
But there is more to Absinth than this – a lot more (which seems strange for such a slim book). Doubinsky has a lot of fun, satirising contemporary events, riffing on news stories, dropping in odd sometimes offbeat sometimes nonsensical asides that help give you a sense of a world going to hell in a handcart. No wonder Hermes and his Godlike buddies are seeing signs, you think. We’re seeing them too, in the shape of slow motion tornados, free floating Mickey Mouse figures, mad spurts of spontaneous human combustion, advertising jingles from God (who, in the midst of many Gods, is we imagine the one God, the Christian God – you may not be surprised to learn he has nothing very much to say), random green spots in the desert, random visitations from historical figures (and objects), black female paramilitary groups and cancelled World Cups. It’s no understatement to say that there is all manner of craziness in Absinth.
Somehow – despite the fact that all of the craziness of Absinth is more than reflected in the craziness of the world about us – Absinth still reads like a welcome and pleasurable distraction. It’s the kind of book you can read in no time at all – but we guarantee it’s the kind of book you’ll be pushing on friends.
Any Cop?: We didn’t see it coming but we are happy it’s here. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to some Absinth today.