Friday 22 August 2008

Officer Pembry

Was it just me, or do all bookbound children wonder at some point whether they are actually just a character in a book someone else is reading?

In Officer Pembry, Giwi Margwelaschwili (or Givi Margvelasvili if you prefer) takes that idea and expands upon it. In fact, he probably doesn’t. He probably takes a much more complicated philosophical idea by the name of ontotextology, and puts it into the form of a novel. Only I am incapable of understanding his theory of ontotextology, so it’s very kind of him to come down to my level in the book.

The idea is fairly simple. A hundred or so years from now, the FBI has a special section – the Prospective Criminal Police – for preventing crimes that are predicted in old books. So not unlike Minority Report, you might think. You’d be wrong though, because the book is unlike anything else you’ve ever even thought of.

The plots of the thrillers and murder mysteries take over the actions and personalities of people with the same names and backstories as the books’ characters. In this case, Agent Meinleser has the job of preventing Hannibal Lecter from killing Officers Pembry and Doyle to escape from high-security imprisonment in Memphis. Ring any bells? Yup, it’s The Silence of the Lambs.

This is a stroke of absolute genius. I for one have read the book and seen the film about a dozen times, so there is a movie rolling before my mind’s eye the instant I read the words “Officer Pembry”. (Actually, in the film, Hannibal says “Ready when your are, Sergeant Pembry” just before he cuffs him.) I’m sure I’m not the only one, which eliminates the need to tell the whole parallel story of the book, and allows Margwelaschwili to concentrate on his own plot.

Mainly through rather long-winded dialogues, we get a picture of three characters: Meinleser, a bureaucrat through and through but passionate about his job, Officer Pembry in real life, usually a brave prison officer but now terrified by having to face his potential murderer, and Officer Pembry in the thriller, who takes on a life of his own later in the story, throwing up even more philosophical questions. What if the characters we read about can read our minds too, in those moments when we lose concentration and the reading flow is inverted?

The first-person narrator (Meinleser) uses a whole new and very German vocabulary to describe the bibliocriminological phenomena he works with. It reads, at times, like a dry legal or philosophical text, but that’s all part of the fun – and the characters. Bibliopersonification, real and irreal persons, bibliochronology, biblioparallel situations – in fact, to translate it well, much of the book would have to be put into pseudo-scientific terms, which might spoil the ease of access. After all, these words are easy enough to understand in German, which helps you to get your head around the ideas.

Although I’m not sure the logic is entirely stringent and there are times when the plot gets bogged down in all this terminology and explanation, the pace really picks up from about the middle, and the final chapter is a match for any more conventional thriller. I wouldn’t label it as science fiction, as although it’s ostensibly set in the future the action could take place today (provided we’d all forgotten about the bibliocosmic existence of Hannibal Lecter). I must say, right now I feel like Officer Pembry (and Officer Pembry and Officer Pembry) have hit me over the head with a blunt object. I’m seeing stars, my head is spinning, I feel like I’m standing between two mirrors – reading about a character in a book who protects other characters in that book from characters in other books within the book who take over other characters in the book has made me feel rather dizzy.

The Complete Review had obviously recovered sufficiently to write a more cogent report on the book. Enjoy.

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