I have to say, I am excellent at choosing books. I recommended The Universe Versus Alex Woods to Clare – well, I bought it for her for her birthday, then again for another friend’s birthday – and it turns out that it is, indeed, amazing. In fact, she has now given it to me to read. Turns out I no longer even have to read books to know how good they are.
My other inspired choices were The Humans by Matt Haig, which I’m going to review as a second book for May because it’s too unbelievably brilliant not to tell everybody about, and If You’re Reading This, I’m Already Dead by Andrew Nicoll.
Obviously, I picked it up because it has a great title. I expected some kind of crime or mystery novel, only to read the blurb and discover it was the story of a circus acrobat who becomes King of Albania – doesn’t really sound very good. Then I opened it to the first chapter, and read the whole thing right there in Waterstones. Immediately the narrator has you hooked – he’s hilarious, random and it’s as though there’s this voice inside the book, just ready to yabber away, and the second you pick it up and start reading you’ll have a hard time getting rid of him – in a good way.
The book begins with an old man, terrified in a little tin caravan in the middle of an air raid, trying desperately to scribble down his life story before his number’s up. It sounds traumatising, but you have to read it to understand how he manages to treat it with humour, without ever being disrespectful. I really wanted to quote the beginning of the novel at this point, then realised I would end up typing the entire first chapter and possibly the majority of the second, so you should just read it. I’ll be honest; he had me by the end of the first paragraph.
The book is just as funny the entire way through – which, given some of the incidents, is surprising. Otto and his group of friends from the circus are all very close, but they’re going to discover there is still plenty to find out about each other. They set off, along with a stolen camel, on an adventure to intercept the Albanian throne before the real, invited prince arrives. We know from the outset that Otto is going to be successful, but, as you might expect, there are plenty of obstacles along the way. And this witty, daft, genius narrator will keep you reading, not only so you can find out how he does it, but because he’s just that entertaining.
I don’t want to say too much as you should just read it, but I warn you: suspend your disbelief. ‘Silly’ describes this book perfectly, but in the most positive way. It reminded me of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, one of my favourite books of last year. Give Otto and his entourage a chance, and I promise you’ll find their story so funny, engaging, even moving at times, that you’ll be very glad he took the time to write it down. Five stars!