James Kennedy, The Order of Odd Fish, Laurel Leaf Library, 2010
You’ve got to hand it to James Kennedy, he certainly wields a mighty vocabulary and knows how to describe the most incongruous, downtrodden places and people in a way that can be endearing. Out of that chaos springs the unexpected with the potential to be refreshing, but Kennedy has chosen to write about a group of people whose sole goal is to undertake useless and pointless activities. As a result, the surprising ruptures and raptures of the plot serve mainly for derision or momentary dramatic effect. Story threads surge unbidden and then disappear abruptly into oblivion. Characters are carried away in long self-indulgent tirades much to the annoyance of other characters and readers alike.
At moments the story can be gripping, as it plunges forward at breakneck speed ablaze with the pyrotechnics of the weird and wonderful. But the orgy of words and the author’s delight at toying with them – he particularly favours alliterations – gets between the tale and the reader, derailing the narrative, paradoxically slowing the pace of the story and testing the reader’s patience. Constantly mocking your characters and yourself as author at the same time, comes at a price. Kennedy’s book may survive thanks to the laughter it provokes and the absurdity of its constructions, but his characters are, for the most part, shallow and superficial.
Judging from a mother’s comment on Goodreads, the book is apparently popular with younger readers. It could be that I am no longer young enough to appreciate it. But all the same, I can’t help having doubts about the book. Rather like the young girl who is the book’s hero, so the book itself could be dangerous. Unbeknown to her, she is dangerous because she embodies the all-devouring mother whose sole aim is to swallow up the world. Likewise, the book is dangerous because it threatens to unravel the tissue of the world seen as an enormous constellation of structured stories. How so? The Odd Fish saga portrays a world in which the absurd triumphs, where human activities are reduced to nonsense, but also, and above all, where unfettered imaginative power, harnessed to short-term effects and derision, rides roughshod over narrative structure. Significance no longer resides in a character’s role and actions in the overall structure of the story, but in the contribution the various happenings make to the surfeit of the spectacular and the absurd. Could it be that the attraction of that apparently boundless freedom, planted like a malignant seed in the human mind, particularly that of the young, favours a growing intolerance towards the restraint that structure implies in narration and as such bring us closer to the end of story-telling as we know it.