Pangamonium by Zanesh Catkin. MidnightSun Publishing 2012
Let’s begin with the cover: it’s shocking pink with black silhouettes of an inverted man, gun and elephant, and there is a dildo in place of the ‘i’ in its title, Pangamonium. Seriously a standout at any bookstore. Now, for the farce that lay inside….
Francis Germaine is a freelance writer whose occupation just took a very wrong turn in Africa to a culturally arid country, shaped like a kidney with a central question mark, called Panga. It is here, while in jail for a mismatched suitcase full of dildos, he meets Easter, an African who is in search of pirate treasure in the form of his grandfather’s own booty. While Germaine agrees to join Easter, for purely financial gains, the two become enmeshed in taking down a dodgy sex toy factory (what other type of sex toy factory would one expect?) which literally chains its underage workers to the job. Joining them is a Amila – a librarian who really needed to get out – and her destined lover Daeid – a Bollywood fanatic.
Though Pangamonium deals with major post colonial issues of capitalism in a third world country and child slavery, debut author Zanesh Catkin has written a fast-paced comedy. The narrative lends itself to many laugh-out-loud moments, and though I wanted to, and felt I needed to, I failed to fall prey to 90% of the jokes. But I don’t think it is reason enough for me to say the book isn’t funny. The book is very funny. It’s funny in its premise, it’s funny in its structure (the indexes, especially), it’s funny in its literary quirks (particularly the bastardised intertextuality) and it’s funny all the way back to the author’s imaginary origin we have no choice but to call his ‘bio’. There were times I began thinking that the book could be so much more if only there was more genuine tragedy, but that is pure bullocks on my part. There is plenty of tragedy in this book, only it is paraded around in near slapstick drag. If the tragedy of this book is that the tragedy isn’t tragic enough, then that is a tragic assessment, because to say this book should be or could be anything other than what it is – a political spoof, and a literary one, at that – really points to the pretenses of the critic, and if that were the case I would have to come back with, ‘then you write the book it should’ve / could’ve been; see if you can do something better’.
This is an adventure story, no doubt, and though I found it initially difficult to get into (there were days at a time when I didn’t pick it up, proving it to be a chore rather than a joy), something happened, and I’m not sure where it happened exactly, but something happened that made it ultimately difficult to put down. Either I had caught on or it had caught on or everything had simply fallen into place, but reading the book became an adventure in itself. And speaking of adventure, this is MidnightSun’s second book in its first year of publishing. Publisher Anna Solding has made a bold choice with Pangamonium as a follow up to her own ethereal very-literary The Hum of Concrete. It leads us to question what will come next. But for now it is Catkin’s turn, whose literary prowess particularly shines in Francis Germaine’s incidental, penned-along-the-way articles, and in Easter’s enormous and disarming character. Truly one can see the risk taker that Catkin is when, like a ray of sunlight in a boarded up cave, he gives us something spiritual in a corporal way. Rather than spoil the plot, I’ll just say the ending takes the book to an inspired level.
– Heather Taylor Johnson
Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Her third collection will be out in February from IP. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and occasionally teaches it at Flinders University. Her first novel, Pursuing Love and Death, will be published by HarperCollins.
Pangamonium is available from MidnightSun Publishing: http://midnightsunpublishing.com/books/pangamonium/