... the kind of book you open at your peril ... Things are already weird enough as it is with the regular intrusion of 'sponsored content', the small black-and-white photographs reminiscent of WG Sebald (who is name-checked several times), the recurrence of swans and characters called Temple, not to mention the growing sense of psychosis and gradual dissolution of all ontological certainty ... Once the rollicking narrative has caught up with itself, the novel implodes in real-time. It becomes increasingly obvious that transgressive, S&M fantasies from the Robbe-Grillet book Vanessa was translating at the beginning have been contaminating the rest of her life, and that her world is now awash with simulacra and doppelgängers ... Hilarious, exhilarating and mind-blowing, Bad Eminence is this year’s cult classic.
If all this seems like so much digression, it’s worth noting that Bad Eminence is full of it. A good third of the novel consists of a string of tangents and red herrings ... Snaking between these often-lengthy asides is a zany metafictional narrative full of high-wire turns of phrase and a virtuosically confusing employ of the double negative. When the twists and turns — and there are many, many twists and turns — get too knotted, proceedings pause for illustrated cocktail recipes based around Singani 63, Stephen Soderbergh’s designer spirit brand ... All this is recounted with a delivery that seems to have been xeroxed in from the pages of an Ottessa Moshfegh story, which given the intertextual density we’re dealing with, may well be intentional. It is not quite as clever as it thinks it is, but equally, not nearly as annoying as it sounds ... we lose the previously tight focus on translation, which is a shame, but only insofar as it’s a shame that, in the comic book albums of Hergé, we never really see Tintin 'the boy reporter' doing much actual reporting ... What follows is a manic and highly enjoyable race back and forth between New York, Paris, and a smattering of French provinces. Several Singani 63 breaks later, it climaxes in an impressively stupid Alpine denouement with a duffel bag full of semiautomatic weapons and a Bond villain–esque mountain lair. And as with so many formally experimental but 'accessible' novels that attempt to graft a tangible plot onto literary auto-commentary (hello, Martin Amis), whatever synthesis Greer arrives at uncouples spectacularly in its final chapters ... Frankly, it’s exhausting. Yet even if you’re lost playing Bad Eminence’s Oulipo-bingo (and I have to confess, I was more than once), Vanessa and her apparently random plot detours might keep you reading. And even if they don’t, her observations will ... It’s a book you read for its parts, not their chaotic sum. Taken this way — and I write as someone who enjoys difficult Gallic literary exercises, Singani 63, and the kind of everyman detective fiction from which the novel takes its cue — Bad Eminence is immensely fun, and often very funny. How to pitch a book like this beyond my not-exactly-vast demographic, however, is anybody’s guess.
Greer delights in these collisions of fact and fiction. Not all readers will ... it is all very Thomas Pynchon...And, as in Pynchon, Bad Eminence displays a byzantine vocabulary that will have you reaching for the dictionary on just about every other page. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Greer’s novels reek of the thesaurus in a way that Pynchon’s never do. The problem is the voice. Funny to start with, Vanessa’s first person is so flippant and wisecracking that it steamrolls every attempt at sincerity and makes the big words and metafictional games seem like nothing more than what they are.