Oh, I Do Like to Be… by Marie Phillips
I adored Marie Phillips’ debut novel, Gods Behaving Badly, which I read in 2008 pre-blog, but did write a few lines on my trusty spreadsheet…
“What happens if you’re an ancient Greek god or goddess, but nobody believes in you any more? This delightfully fun and ribald novel gives us a new take on the age-old clash between mortals and immortals. The ancient Greek Gods are living out their lives in domestic squalor in London and trying to make enough money to get by – Aphrodite does phone-sex! Artemis decides something needs to be done, so she employs a cleaner, Alice, and this is a life-changing event – for all of them. This novel has good helpings of sauce and humour. You won’t learn much about the Greek gods necessarily, but you’ll have a good time.”
In her second novel, The Table of Lesser Knights, she took on Arthurian Myth and legend with a tale of a not-so-well-known knight, and the women in his life. (Read my review here).
Now for her third novel, she has moved to Unbound – and yes, I pledged to this book, and this time she is taking on the Bard!
Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors is his shortest play, a farcical comedy of mistaken identity that takes place over a single day, involving two pairs of identical twins accidentally separated into the wrong pairs at birth. When one set, master and servant, travels to where the other half lives, a whole-host of mishaps occur when they meet the other half’s friends and family. Phillips has transposed Shakespeare’s action to an English seaside town, and after a short prologue, we meet half of the protagonists:
At the far end of the not-very-large town, Billy and his sister Sally had just stepped off the train. Although Sally was smaller than Billy, she was wearing the oversized rucksack, while Billy dragged the case on wheels, because of his back. There was nothing wrong with Billy’s back, but it was important that it stayed that way.
‘What do you think?’ said Billy.
[…] There was a thin layer of sand on everything, and an angry seagull perched on a lamp post, although seagulls always looked angry, thought Billy. […]
‘I like it,’ said Sally, which was the right answer. Billy smiled.
‘Why don’t you take both bags,’ he said, ‘and find us a B&B? I’ll head to the beach, soak up the atmosphere, get the old creativity going… Rolling,’ he corrected himself, liking the feel of the word on his tongue, thinking it was a better word, ad then changing his mind, ‘going’ was better, less try-hard.
Billy and Sally have come to this town so that Billy can write his play. Sally will get a job in a shop to keep them afloat. Having split up, it isn’t long before Billy and Sally encounter Sal and Bill respectively, and the mishaps and misunderstandings begin to pile up.
Phillips keeps the basics of the plot in tact, nicking plenty of bits from Shakey, but totally updated for 21st century sensibilities. The supporting cast includes a traffic warden, Dr Patel, Bill’s estranged lover Thandie, and various others including the twins’ ‘parents’ who get caught up and confused in all the antics, before the inevitable happy ending.
What adds a layer of additional fun is that Bill and Billy are clones of William Shakespeare, (whereas Sal and Sally were cloned from a hair found on a bus seat). We know this from the book’s blurb at the outset, but Bill and Billy, Sal and Sally don’t, and would never find out if mad scientist Eleanor (their ‘mother’) gets to them in time.
Never less than witty, I really enjoyed this book, spotting Shakespeare references almongst all the ice-cream and seaside slapstick. I loved all the non-sequiturs that happened to the twins, who have to adapt fast each time after encountering the bizarre-to-them actions of the other pair. (8.5/10)
Marie Phillips obviously loves parody and satire, and don’t you just love the title and strapline of this book? Who will she take on next? Dickens perhaps – now that would be fun …
P.S. Just in case you think that surely two pairs of identical twins would never get mixed up – it did – read the amazing story of the ‘Mixed Up Brothers of Bogota’ here.
Source: Own copy (I pledged). Marie Phillips, Oh, I Do Like to Be… (Unbound, 24th Feb 2019) paperback, 176 pages.
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