The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil

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The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil

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Category: Humour
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: An absurdist, metafictional novel that will do all it can to wring a laugh from you.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Polygon
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781846973376

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You know sometimes when someone tells a joke, everyone else laughs, and you're sat there wondering what was so funny?

I had that feeling a few times while I was reading this book.

There was a lot of really good stuff – I mean, one of the characters is an alpaca. Already pretty funny, right? (It… makes sense in context.) It's an odd but strangely compelling premise: a remote Scottish island where people and alpacas practice their craft to enter a short story in the titular Brilliant and Forever festival. Very early on, it becomes apparent that the alpacas are struggling against something of a divide with the humans, viewed by them as little more than second-class citizens. But everyone on the island – human and alpaca alike – is obsessed with writing, each of them desperate to make their mark and become a famous author.

It's quite fine, nuanced writing, every other line a joke. Not all of them hit the mark. I'm not a huge fan of wordplay, and some of the more deliberate jokes like 'haiku-kery' (poetry-based cooking, get it?) were stretched a little too thin to keep on being funny after their first mention. On my initial read I struggled to keep focus during the long stretches of the narrator's inner monologue, which I felt really should have been chopped down or done away with completely. And yet when I reread these sections I found I enjoyed them a lot more – much more so than the numerous one-liners.

Where this novel really succeeds is in the way it examines the writing process and interweaves different stories together. MacNeil includes all 13 short stories written for the titular festival in the text, and this is the novel's triumph, switching between them quickly while somehow managing not to make them blend into the same voice. Some of them have unexpected endings: some are sad, some are funny, and all are clever – I didn't fully recognise how clever the book was until I'd finished it.

Taste is such a difficult thing to predict. I felt sure I would love this book, really love it. But while I didn't dislike it, it didn't have the effect on me I expected. Perhaps in a week's time, I'll snap my fingers and say Oh…! I want to reread it one day for that exact reason. For now, though, I'm sure Archie the alpaca would shrug and say to me It's a jazz thing you don't get…

If you like intelligent fiction that will make you chuckle, you might enjoy Solar by Ian McEwan.

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Buy The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil at


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