Book of the week – "The Old Terra Vitae"

Life is hard enough with its routine and family stresses, and unfortunately the afterlife isn’t so much of a rest either. That’s the experience of Loupe, striving away at a 9-5 job under many watchful eyes. not all of them benign, and always at his side is his wise counsel, a guardian angel of sorts, realised as a talking, alcoholic dog called Juju. 

The Old Terra Vitae” is Paddy Green’s first novel, and whilst it zips along at pace this is ostensibly a comedic novel in which very little comedy actually happens. There are moments of unease, at one point in Loupe’s many flashbacks incredibly difficult, and these are woven into the otherwise mundane commuter world with flourish. It’s how Will Self might tackle things were he given a guest spot editing Dilbert.

His voice was simply awful, the distillation of every embittered bureaucrat in history, like a blackboard scraping down another blackboard. He paused, and adjusted his tie. I fervently hoped he wasn’t going to leave this long a gap between every word he had to say – this train wasn’t going to the moon so we were liable to run out of time for smalltalk.

There is the influence of Douglas Adams here but Green has a verve of his own, and this comes out particularly strongly in the darkest, most difficult passages.

As the incision was made, I saw the first wisps of smoke rising from the wound. Clearly I was the only one here who could see it, as the medical team carried on regardless – opening her up, releasing a curling shadow. It boiled over her skin like a dark dry ice, coiled up the arms of the surgeon as he did his work. Then he reached in and pulled me from the door he’d cut for me, and the proto-me was released into the light. I looked rubbery, grey, malformed – and the shadow was stuck to me as if by some kind of static electricity…

Juju and Loupe are an unexpected double team, steeped in sarcasm and double measures, and for a novel written in a month for the (in)famous “NaNoWriMo” project it comes across very well indeed, intelligent and belligerent.

“The Old Terra Vitae” is available now in hardcopy and download formats from Amazon