Curtain raised. The stage is set. Black-clad, sloshed and dishevelled, the great author Titus Jensen steps into the light. Expectant laughter. A washed-up has-been, he can faintly remember being the hero on the Swedish literary scene. A former national treasure dulled by partying hard and drinking harder, now he has become the laughing stock of the yearly festival, where he is dragged out to read tech manuals and royal histories to the obscene amusement of the crowd. Backstage, he fades in and out of his stupor to chat with his comrade Eddie X, charismatic prophet of love and popular beat poet, about their uncertain future as authors in a ferociously competitive world. Together they come up with a bright idea to mesmerize the masses once again and get ahead of the bookselling game.
What they need is to write the best book in the world. It needs to be a book so good that it will top the charts in every genre, and cater to every taste imaginable. Romance, murder mystery, self-help and cook book, psychological thriller and chick lit – the best book in the world must be all of these things and more.
Fired up by their synchronized flash of brilliance, Titus slinks back to his ramshackle apartment to secretively start work on the book that will save him from obscurity. Under the strict guidance of his exasperated agent, Astra, he sets out to sober up, straighten himself out and turn his new obsession into reality. Soon he will have a new lease on life. However, the bottle is not the only danger on the road to fame and fortune, and Titus has to face more than his own demons to reach his deadline in one piece. Better to be obsessed than dependent.
The Best Book In The World is a clever piece of work, an explosively brief bombshell of everything you could ever love in a book. Mirroring Titus’ fictional adventures of protagonist inspector Håkan Rink, the writer himself goes through a cathartic process of reinventing himself through far-out self-help and misguided attempts at psychology. Throughout, the reader is treated to an equally invigorating trip down a literary rabbit-hole.
The Best Book In The World manages to be dark and goofy, profoundly ridiculous, flighty and gripping, a breezy read which is rewardingly demanding. Every time I thought I had this book pinned down, it caught me off guard in the very next chapter. Some of the more absurd bits, like Titus’ visit to deranged psychotherapist Dr. Ralf, even made me laugh out loud – a personal rarity when it comes to reading. And when you think you’ve seen it all, Stjernström has one final surprise in store: A discomfortingly sharp switchback at the end, which turns the entire story on its head. Having finished it, I think reading it again would be an entirely new and different experience. It certainly is a book which deserves a different cover whichever way you turn it.
Fast-paced and hard-hitting throughout, the story’s characters are sympathetic and delicate, inviting us to join them on a carnavalesque merry-go-round past crime and sex, poetry, art history, horror, telemarketers, cold revenge, novelty T-shirts, uneasy friendships and tearful family reunions. And to top it all off, a delicious recipe for the world’s best pizza, with God in the middle. Divine!
While The Best In The Book might fall somewhat short of being the best book in the world, it is still quite an achievement to write a book that could very well be reviewed in a thousand different ways, and still baffle and stupefy. Now all that’s left to do is to wait for them to transfer it to the big screen, preferably a production starring Hugh Laurie.