The Wish List By Eric Colfer, Penguin, £ 6.50
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The old bard of Avon would have perhaps smiled on this little novel from Eric Colfer. Set to the 21st century environment, the book’s little heroine, Meg, finds new meaning in life after life.
The story begins with an act of delinquency and a little problem of entry into the next world. Meg presents a problem of not quite fitting in. So what better place to fix things than in terra firma' Except that things aren’t too settled on another terrain either. The tale is set in Ireland amid football, old flames and scores to settle.
Meg, in her dealings, has to face an old adversary in the form of a dog with fangs and chutzpah. Belch, the dog, too has his agenda and powerful friends. Meg’s ally is an old codger on the other side of the spectrum where diamonds are no longer a girl’s best friends.
Meg scowls. The old chaps thought they knew everything. But here was this fellow spouting on god, and he wasn’t even dead yet.
“ ‘If you were sent back, it must be to do something special.’ A nervous feeling growled in Meg’s spiritual stomach.
‘Like sort out my life’
You had to laugh. So did Meg... ‘What life' You have only half a year left.’ It was the sort of thing Meg Finn did. Blurted out a mean statement like that, and then felt guilty for months.”
The story gambols through a technologically advanced heaven and hell and Satan and St Peter barely coming to terms with modern gizmos. Satan has an able team in Beelzebub and Miyishi. The hassle is that side deals and tech-glitches keep coming in the way of the grand design. Also do ambitions of the pecking order. Thus the fate of the divine order of things hinges on Meg’s re-entry and exploits.
“ ‘Technically, you don’t have to make her bad, as the Master so eloquently put it,’ explained Beelzebub. ‘You just have to stop her from being good. The target will have been sent back to help the old man. That way we get a red aura... The Master gets his precious soul, I keep my job and you escape an eternity in the barbecue section...’”
This charming tale spins around the staleness of modernity and the charm of fulfillment. Even if fulfillment has its measure of violence its innocence has a Tom Sharpe-like quality, without being bawdy. The book also portrays the role reversal between adults and children.
You may need to use search engines liberally for the tech- stuff. But the Wish List made me laugh, sometimes giggle and mostly feel good. Young adults will find this a perfect wean from the Potter series, though they may have to compete with their parents to partake in it.