A novel about coming to terms with creativity really doesn’t sound like it would be scintillating. Indeed, writers who write about writing tend to be pompous, whining middle-class white men who have led charmed and privileged lives. Russell Hoban has always ploughed his own furrow (usually at 480º to everyone else’s) and has produced a delightfully surreal work that manages to be funny, philosophical, intriguing, so far off the wall there isn’t a wall in sight, and touching.
Kleinzeit, who works for an advertising agency, gets fired. Very quickly afterwards he finds himself in hospital with a recurring geometrical pain (his hypotenuse is a bit dodgy). Thereafter he is pitched into an adventure that has more than a touch of Lewis Carroll about it whilst remaining firmly a work by Russell Hoban.
Beyond that it is difficult to describe what happens. Kleinzeit encounters various characters and concepts, converses with Death, and falls in love with Sister. In the process his ailments fade and he begins to get to grips with whatever it is he is writing. Yet as you follow the journey, you realize you are in the hands of a writer who really should be celebrated as one of the great talents of literature.
This is, for all its themes, an accessible work, warm, beautifully written, full of momentum, overflowing with ideas, and great fun to read.