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Tim Davys, Lanceheim

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2008. ISBN: 9789100120863

Reviewed by Kevin Halliwell in SBR 2009:1

Lanceheim is the second volume in Tim Davys’s planned quartet, centred on the familiar-yet-otherworldly Mollisan Town. It follows closely on the heels of the first volume, Amberville, published in Sweden in October 2007. The publication of Amberville was accompanied by a media sensation, partly due to the unusual fact that all the characters in the novel are stuffed animals, but perhaps mostly because the Anglo-sounding Tim Davys is in fact a pseudonym for a Swedish writer who wishes to remain anonymous. Much ink and ether have been spilt in the Swedish press and blogosphere in an attempt to reveal the true identity of the author, the consensus being that he or she must be an established writer with an already solid reputation.The scale of the national success of Amberville was enough to persuade Harper Collins to purchase the global rights and the novel is due to appear in an English translation in February 2009. Understandably then, expectations for the follow-up were high. It should be pointed out, however, that while Lanceheim does build on the same premise as its predecessor, with its animal-named soft toy characters living out their lives in and around Mollisan Town, the book can be read and enjoyed quite independently. The catalyst for the action is the discovery of Maximilian, a soft toy like no other (indeed, he is the only character not to be named after an animal). Maximilian is found in the woods, wrapped in a sheet, and as he grows (in itself a physical first for Mollisan Town) he begins to speak in riddles.The swaddling clothes/parables conceit is compounded by Maximilian’s fundamental goodness which, together with his powers of healing, soon make him the object of a messianic cult, revered by some but increasingly reviled by others. Any potential readers who might be sceptical about a novel based on stuffed toys need not fear, as the animals’ pronounced anthropomorphic traits ensure that the required ‘suspension of disbelief’ soon kicks in. Consequently, when a jealous husband disposes of his wife by slashing open her material and ripping out all her stuffing, or the characters repair to the drying cabinet after the afternoon rain, the effect is only that of a wry reminder. It does come as something of a shock, however, when a maltreated stuffed animal complains that his ‘ribs are sore’. Unfortunately, this latter piece of authorial oversight is a portent of disappointments to come, for while Lanceheim is essentially an engaging work that manages to combine a page-turner (even featuring a world-weary, Forties-inspired private dick who answers to the name of Philip Mouse!) with a thoughtprovoking discursion on the attractions and dangers of religious fervour, Tim Davys seems to lose his way towards the end, unsure how to draw together the threads of the plot.The ten-page epilogue opens with an explicit admission that the reader may feel disappointed on closing the book, and the ensuing events do indeed smack more of a hasty, perhaps deadline-inspired wrap-up than the fulfilment of previous promise. That said, Lanceheim is a good, enjoyable novel that leaves the reader still smiling pensively even after the final page is turned.

Also by Tim Davys

  • Amberville. Reviewed by Stig Olsson in SBR 2008:1.

Other reviews by Kevin Halliwell

Other reviews in SBR 2009:1

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