Albert Bonniers förlag, 2007. ISBN: 9789100116071
Reviewed by Stig Olsson in SBR 2008:1
English Translation: Amberville, translated by Paul Norlen. Doubleday, 2009. ISBN 9780385614979.
Nicholas Dove, king of Amberville’s underworld, is convinced that there is a Death List and that he is on it. Everything is lost unless his name is deleted. The subordinate agents are mustered and an inherently absurd account follows. Eric Bear, Emma Rabbit, Marek Snake, Tom-Tom Crow, Sam Gazelle and Teddy Bear (Eric’s twin brother) are all there in a society populated (if the expression is possible in this context) by perfectly normal soft toys.
"He wrinkled his cross-stitched eyebrows and there was a humorous twinkle in his small, black button eyes", is an early description of Eric Bear, one of several main characters. Another is the above-mentioned Nicholas Dove, introduced to the reader as "...one of the most dangerous animals in Amberville, directly or indirectly controlling the greater part of the town’s organised crime".
Since points of geographical reference are not available it is not possible to determine the location of Amberville on any known map. However, names such as Casino Monokowskij, Knaak Strasse, Laneheim and Yialas Arch suggest an unfamiliar international society. Not even described local weather patterns provide a geographical context. "Morning Weather" is followed by "Afternoon Weather", in turn followed by "Evening Weather". The changes are always punctual and always feature the same weather systems year in, year out. "The half-moon was in place, there could not be more than a half-hour or so left of Evening Weather", is one of the chronicler’s time observations.
Everything seems controlled and monitored, but in Amberville everything is also neatly and expeditiously provided, e.g. when newly-wed couples find they can afford a baby, all they have to do is submit their application to the offspring list. In due course, if accepted, an offspring is produced (at the toy factory, of course), checked, registered and delivered to the expecting couple. What joy! Society’s means and ways to secure re-production of citizens and proper, reliable parentage.
The refuse dump is a horrifying area. Animals produced with defects, such as discoloured birds, toothless rodents or stuffed animals without whiskers, arms, legs and tails are taken to the dump together with other refuse.
Tim Davys’s first book is about The Death List and Mafia pressure on Eric Bear to remove the name of the gangster boss from the list – or else!
Interspersed here and there in the bizarre lead story are struggling passages of something deeper: a vague streak of self-scrutiny, the complexity of good and evil and moral corruption. Teddy wants to be a good bear. Evil is a serious subject, and to be a good bear you must know the complexion of evil. "I do", reflects Teddy the Bear. "In a way me and my twin brother Eric are married to the same female (Emma Rabbit) although she’s not aware of it. It’s a complicated situation. Love is something else. Love is deadly to someone who has dedicated his life to goodness". Teddy Bear believes that all stuffed animals are delivered good although, from their first day outside the factory, tempted by the challenge and driving force of evil.
Animals, real animals, have appeared in fairy stories many times in world literature for different purposes. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, an intrinsically wise book, is a story about pigs that want to change the world they live in. Earlier, in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli ("frog") was brought up by Father Wolf and Mother Wolf. Baloo, the brown bear, and Bagheera, the black panther, teach Mowgli the law of the jungle and guide him in its ways. But soft toys?
The dust jacket reassures the reader that "Amberville is an original reading experience, to say the least. The novel is the first part of a planned quartet". Perhaps, then, one should remain hopeful? Stig Olsson