Soul Purpose

Author: Nick Marsh
Immanion Press
RRP: £13.99, US $23.99
ISBN 1 904853 31 5
Available 01 March 2006

To say that Alan Reece was having a bad day would be an understatement; in fact Alan was having a bad life and that life was about to be cut prematurely short by the imminent end of the world. Stuck in a job he hates and missing his fiancé who, for reasons that he sympathised with, had recently become his ex-fiancé. It was bad enough being a sleep deprived vet, but when Alan attends the birth of a transparent calf he's fatefully aware that his life is just about to take a turn for the worse...

Soul Purpose is a first novel from new author Nick Marsh who is, indeed, a vet in real life. It is always with a feeling of trepidation that I approach reading a novel that purports to be comedic, especially from a first time novelist. The problem is that humour tends to be a very individual thing, great if you already have an audience like Terry Prachett or Douglas Adams, not such a good move if you are a relative unknown.

So, it was good to see that Marsh hasn't fallen into the trap of fart jokes and silly names. Rather he has gone for a gentle form of surreal situational comedy, which should appeal to a great many people. His well rounded characters each react to their bizarre circumstances in diverse, but very human ways. This is comedy painted with a delicate brush rather than a B&Q five and a quarter incher. Marsh has the same sense of the absurdities of life as Douglas Adams had, and gleefully peppers his book with examinations of everything from aliens, the paranormal and religion.

Alan is your typically unhappy Englishman, much in the mould of Arthur Dent sans the dressing gown. Like Dent he exhibits a degree of befuddled bemusement and incredulity regarding the events which unfold around him. He is your everyman character tossed around in a tide he cannot control, and as such Marsh has made him a character with which it is easy to feel both sympathetic about and become involved in.

This book was a delight to read. Okay, so no great laugh out load moments, but it did elicit a gentle and consistent level of chuckles and amused smiley moments right to the last page. This quality of writing was maintained throughout the book. Moreover, where it would have been easy to revert to cheap and obvious jokes to keep his audience enthralled, Marsh has instead decided to spend his energies producing an excellent and interesting plot, which gets increasingly darker towards the end of the book. Have to say I loved the ending, but I'm not going to spoil it, you will have to go out and buy a copy.

Marsh has been no slouch when it comes to his other characters. The plucky Kate, who first stumbles on the end of the world, spends her time having to deal with the initially ineffective Alan and his house mate George, who is pointlessly employed as a reporter for a paranormal rag. If that wasn't enough, she finds herself having to rely on Trevor, her ex-boyfriend and without doubt the most boring man in the world.

If this is Marsh's first novel, then all I can say is I can't wait to see his next one. Overall, an excellent piece of writing that will, in equal parts, enthral and entertain you.

Charles Packer

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