The Antipope

By Robert Rankin

Reviewed by Alan Green

A terrible evil stirs in the sleepy west London suburb of Brentford. The world is in peril and only two men stand between us and the horrors of the Apocalypse. Only Jim Pooley and John Omally can stand against the darkness. Unfortunately they are busy trying to enjoy a nice quiet pint, preferably one someone else has bought them and they don’t really want any truck with all this cosmic battle between good and evil malarky. Are we all doomed or will they find a way to save the world without straying too far from the bar?

“The Antipope” is the first book of the infamous, hugely popular and only slightly misnamed Brentford Trilogy. There are seven or eight books in the series now (I’m not being lazy it depends on how you count them – [figure accurate as of July 2009: Ed.]) and nobody is making any promises that there won’t be more.

These crazed but hilariously funny warblings flow from the pen of the “Magus to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Sprout, 12th Dan Master of Dimac”, cult novelist and local boy done good Robert [F.] Rankin. A lot of people think that Rankin must have a strange and twisted imagination but actually his work is mostly based on fact. Trying to enjoy a nice quiet pint in your local while eccentric characters keep trying to draw you into life and death struggles against dark supernatural forces is pretty much what people do in here in southwest London. Ask anybody at Monsta, they’ll say the same. You’re very lucky that we manage to find the time to write reviews and such like. It must be even worse in Brentford.

Rankin himself once unleashed a Griffin on the poor Brentonians. He later claimed that it was just a hoax but there were lot’s of eyewitnesses and it was in all the papers. “The Brentford Griffin”, look it up.

Jim Pooley and John Omally are truly heroes for our time. Honest men who simply want to enjoy a few pints in their beloved local, The Flying Swan. They enjoy passing the time discussing important questions of the day like whether or not “flying saucers are in fact nothing more than the chrome plated helmets of five mile high invisible fairy folk.” It’s an interesting theory. I’ll have to bring it up next time I’m in the pub. Sadly a cruel and uncaring world is constantly trying to force them to leave the friendly warmth of “The Swan” and get a job or do battle with the forces of evil. They’ve always skillfully managed to avoid the dehumanizing horrors of paid employment by living on their wits. The new threat to their peaceful life style is harder to sidestep. A maniacal and long dead Antipope has returned from the grave. He wants to build a satanic Vatican and unleash Armageddon. It’s all a bit much for Pooley and Omally.

“Outside the sun shines, buses rumble towards Ealing Broadway and I’m expected to do battle with the powers of darkness. It all seems a little unfair.”

Fortunately our two unwilling heroes aren’t entirely alone. Nevile the part time barman is always on hand to pour them a pint and give them some sage advice or at least tell them to get out of the pub when it’s closing time. Soap Distant, subterranean dweller and founder of that illustrious organization the “Brentford and West London Hollow Earth Society” is a lot more help than you’d think.

Perhaps most importantly they are assisted by Professor Slocombe. The professor is the local wise man, guru, sorcerer and general expert on weird goings on. He would be dismissed as a nutter in less enlightened places but in Brentford he is a highly respected figure. He is also an old friend of Omally and Pooley. The professor is always there to drop little hints about what’s going on and then explain it to them when they still don’t get it.

In theory Norman the newsagent and eccentric inventor should be some help. After all a man who plans to wade to France because he can’t swim must be applauded as a master of lateral thinking. Unfortunately Norman is in a sense the one who gets them into trouble. Things begin to go downhill in Brentford after Norman’s wife swaps his treasured Morris Minor for five magic beans.

A wonderful cast of impossibly eccentric but somehow down to earth characters people the Brentford Trilogy. All the books in the series are deeply rooted in Rankin’s beloved Brentford. His work gains a lot from that sense of place. He has really captured the spirit of the town. It’s nice to see the brave people of Brentford finally getting the recognition they deserve for their tireless struggle against the forces of evil. Like I said earlier it really is like this in Southwest London. The whole thing is practically a documentary.

I would happily recommend any of Rankin’s novels but I think that the first three or four books of the Brentford Trilogy are his best work. Later books while still very funny sometimes rely too heavily on in-jokes. Not that there is anything wrong with a good in-joke but they can start to seem a bit lazy.

If you are looking for a writer who will make you laugh then Robert Rankin is the man for you. He is the guru of far-fetched fiction or tall tales. If you want to be sucked into his world then “The Antipope” is a very good place to start. Rankin’s sense of humour is firmly rooted in British pub culture. His novels are the kind of thing you and your friends would come up with if you tried to write a novel during a trip to the pub, assuming you all happen to be geniuses.

A note from the Editor:

On behalf (but not the request) of the author, may I mention Robert Rankin’s now official fan-club, based at SproutLore.com. I am reliably informed the T-Shirts are “real blinders”  The Order of The Golden Sprout. Personally I’m rather partial to some of the badges!

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