Robert Rankin – The Antipope

And so we begin the Great Robert Rankin Re-read-athon with his first novel, which is the first in what the cover of my old paperback edition[1] describes as “The first novel in the now legendary Brentford Trilogy”, a trilogy that may have more than the traditional number of volumes, as we shall see. It was first published in 1981, and I must have caught on to it a few years after that, if my memory is moderately correct.

But enough of such digressions, and on with the book. This is where we first meet the legendary denizens[2]  of Brentford and the famous Flying Swan in particular. There’s the ever-present Neville, the part-time barman[3], Old Pete (with his dog Chips), the inventive Norman Hartnell (who we’re advised we shouldn’t confuse with the other Normal Hartnell), the rather odd Soap Distant, the adventurous Archroy, and more. But most importantly, we meet the stars of the show: Jim Pooley[4] and John Omally. These are our reluctant and frequently accidental heroes. Frequently drunk, always under-employed and with a knack for finding trouble, they’re immensely likeable characters, and it’s always a delight when the next Rankin book includes them.

A lot goes on in this book – there are incidents that would be remarkable enough to make a nicely episodic story about life in Brentford – the mystery of the disappearing canal, for instance, but there is, of course much more.

It all starts with the appearance in Brentford of “a beggar of dreadful aspect”, who unaccountably makes people feel the urge to cross themselves. This beggar appear to several of the borough’s residents before settling at the Seaman’s Mission. And begins to develop his power.

As his power grows, he reveals himself to be none other than[5] Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI[7], back from the dead to restore himself to his Papal throne and generally take over the world. He’s got some quite nasty assistants and the ability to influence people to follow him. It’s up to Jim and John, guided by the wise Professor Slocombe to combat the forces of evil and save Brentford, if not the world.

This is all done with much silliness, many outrageous gags and a gloriously eccentric cast of characters. It’s quite lovely, and if you haven’t read it, you should give it a try.

And can I suggest that if you’re going to buy it, please go for the eBook – these are self-published by Robert (thanks to a publisher not having the right words in a contract), and will benefit the writer much more than buying a DTV.

[1] 1994 printing – I’d previously borrowed it from the library
[2] Look, this is the kind of book that has denizens in it. If you can’t handle a denizen or two, you’re probably on the wrong site. Come to think of it, you may be on the wrong site even if you can handle a denizen or two.
[3] Yes, I know. You’ll need to get used to that sort of thing
[4] Who is more or less Mr Rankin’s alter ego thingy
[5] The use of “none other than” is, of course, redundant, but it’s the sort of book that inspires that kind of nonsense. And other kinds.[6]
[6] Like these footnotes
[7] Look him up: not a very nice chap at all