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In the Absence of Absalon revolves around an unnamed investigator, a set of keys and a townhouse. He is investigating a series of disappearances: of his colleague, Marguerite; of Harold Absalon, the Mayor’s transport advisor, whose disappearance Marguerite had been investigating prior to his own disappearance; of Richard Knox, the owner of the townhouse, who had fallen out with Absalon before disappearing; and of Absalon’s wife Isobel, who is glimpsed, partially undressed, in an upper storey bedroom as the investigator approaches.
Pursued from all sides and seemingly losing his mind, what the investigator discovers, as he enters the house, is both familiar and utterly devastating.
‘Okotie has here further refined not only his comic creation, but also his unique narrative style – the hyper-punctilious – to mesmeric, Zenoesque effect’ —David Rose
‘Nicholas Lezard’s Choice This is literature as insanity, the mind stuck in an endless loop – focused, it would appear, too closely on the job at hand. The detective story as existential crisis took form with Beckett’s Molloy more than 60 years ago; and the concept of the novel as crazed digression was first incarnated in Tristram Shandy, over 250 years ago. Okotie is in very good company – and has also set himself a high bar. He succeeds. Superbly.’ —Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
‘Okotie’s labyrinthine syntax and meandering thought loops bring to mind the works of David Foster Wallace and Nicholson Baker; but the clearest nod is to Samuel Beckett’s Watt. Delightfully eccentric … brilliantly funny.’ —Houman Barekat, The Spectator
‘With its intentionally excessive descriptiveness, the book reads like a Private Eye satire of some ludicrously punctilious hack determined to recount every minute detail of a mundane scenario, and far from being tedious, it is very funny.’ —Josh Loeb, Hackney Citizen
‘Which is all to say Simon Okotie’s novel Whatever Happened To Harold Absalon? is a brilliant example of the database novel (not that the author would necessarily refer to it as such). It’s an interrogation of how we tell (and, more to the point, read) stories at all in a world of infinite choices, and it is richly comic as well as creepy, compelling, and smart.’ —Steve Himmer, Necessary Fiction
‘The plot is slight; what makes this novel remarkable is its style. Marguerite is comically meticulous, unable to proceed without parsing the minutiae of the case or his own language: “no-one had the upper hand, that meant, by logical extension, no-one had the lower hand either”. He is rather like Wittgenstein reincarnated as a pedantic private dick.
The result is slow-paced but feels charming and fresh; indeed, the only recent comparable fiction would be Will Self’s Booker-shortlisted Umbrella, which also features a prolonged, digressive sequence set on a London bus. Simon Okotie’s book will receive less attention, but it is equally audacious, and in its own, low-key way, just as compelling.’ —David Evans, Financial Times
‘There is a danger that Okotie will not reach the readers he deserves, and that those who do pick up the book, attracted magpie-ishly by its McCall-Smithesque blurb and brightly coloured cover, will be left feeling baffled and annoyed. There will be others, however, who will see the ambition, originality, thoughtfulness and, crucially, the humanity in Simon Okotie’s writing, and in Absalon the making of a modern classic.’ —Adam Biles, 3:AM Magazine
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