First published on 10 Nov 2010. Updated on 7 Apr 2011.
It appears there isn’t much with words that Shaun Micallef can’t do. The “comic Renaissance Man” (his words), after years of consistent TV, essay, column and sketch writing, has turned his considerable wit and verbosity to extended fictional prose composition. He has written a time-bending illustrated novella, Preincarnate, that tells the tale of Alexander Pruitt, who is murdered in England, 2005 only to reawaken in England, 1657 inside the body of the son of Oliver Cromwell, is then frozen in sleep by Masonic monks, only to be reawoken by some Victorian novelists, all the while being chased by the author across Paris, Edinburgh, LA and Area 51, but not in that order. Badgers are a persistent presence. It’s very confusing.
His publisher pushed for a simple mode of delivery, but Micallef wanted to keep it not-simple. “It’s a challenging idea and [I thought] maybe the way in which it’s delivered should be challenging too… I love re-reading books that I’ve enjoyed, if you get new things out of it a next time you read it that’s great, you’re getting value for money.”
It is, of course very, very funny. You get a strong feel for the books Micallef likes: playful homage is paid to 19th century literature; meanwhile, blockbuster author Matthew Reilly gets a brutal beating. “I thought, he’s very successful, he’ll be able to withstand it… Hopefully he’ll still talk to me.” But all novels and novelists are up for parody here, making it a playful deconstruction of the medium itself. “There are lot of jokes in the book about books and about writing. I tried to keep it to a minimum; hopefully it’s not too much.”
Will he write more fiction? “I found it really rewarding but I think every idea I’ve had I’ve put in the book, so I’m a bit bereft. I suspect I will try something else but I imagine it will be a different style.”
A key character note of the protagonist is his feeling of not belonging to his time and place. Does Micallef share the sentiment? “Yes. I always feel that I should be watching the Marx Brothers on Broadway in the 1920s.” His myriad fans likely prefer him exactly where he is.
Preincarnate Hardie Grant Books, RRP$29.95