The Fandom of the Operator

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Author: Robert Rankin
Publisher: Corgi (2002)
Binding: Paperback, 368 pages

Punning title aside, Rankin's latest novel has no connection with the Gaston Leroux's Parisian classic. However, it is one of his better ones, and a thankful return to form after the rather aimless and disappointing Web Site Story.

Fandom is a first person account of dealings with the dead, following the life of one Gary Cheese from his childhood in the 1950s through to the late 1970s. Naturally it's set in Rankin's beloved borough of Brentford and features some recognisable icons from his previous work, including pulp fiction detective Lazlo Woodbine and the mysterious Ministry of Serendipity. These are integral to the plot, rather than just shoe-horned in, and the book is all the better for it.

The plot, such as it is - and fans of this author know that the plot is the least important part of his books - centres around FLATLINE, a telecommunications service which allows contact with the dead. However, FLATLINE isn¹t even mentioned until halfway through the book, which is more of a character study of a typical Rankin-esque eccentric and his strange surroundings.

Rankin is at heart a storyteller in the traditional sense, and the first person narrative gives him great scope to explore character, while progressing the story at its own pace. Reining back on silliness and in-jokes makes the ones that are evident all the funnier.

Those who prefer Rankin's more knockabout books may be frustrated by the more mature, conventional approach of this one, but in many ways it's Rankin doing what he does best: playing with the ideas of typical, English eccentricity and global - even galactic - conspiracy. Like all of Rankin's books it's not too long, but it doesn¹t feel lightweight either, more like the sort of satisfying novel that used to be standard before 500-page shelfbusters became the norm.

Reviewed by M.J. Simpson