December 7, 2012 6:12 pm

Comically meticulous

Style makes this offbeat debut novel remarkable

Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon?, by Simon Okotie, Salt RRP£8.99, 208 pages

 

At the centre of this offbeat debut is Marguerite, a detective investigating the disappearance of civil servant Harold Absalon. Marguerite follows Absalon’s wife in search of clues but, when she confronts him, he flees to the top deck of a bus to reflect on his work.

The plot is slight; what makes this novel remarkable is its style. Marguerite is comically meticulous, unable to proceed without parsing the minutiae of the case or his own language: “no-one had the upper hand, that meant, by logical extension, no-one had the lower hand either”. He is rather like Wittgenstein reincarnated as a pedantic private dick.

The result is slow-paced but feels charming and fresh; indeed, the only recent comparable fiction would be Will Self’s Booker-shortlisted Umbrella, which also features a prolonged, digressive sequence set on a London bus. Simon Okotie’s book will receive less attention, but it is equally audacious, and in its own, low-key way, just as compelling.

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