Bowl the ladies over

THE COLLECTOR COLLECTOR by Tibor Fischer Secker pounds 12.99
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The Fact that it's narrated by a bowl shouldn't put you off. It's not just any old bowl, for a start, but a cynical, impossibly aged krater, amphora or pyxis which has been stolen 3,208 times, spent time at the bottom of the sea and been entombed alongside a mummy ("When grave robbers broke in, I have to say I was grateful; we all like a break, but a thousand years was enough"), has learnt 5,000 languages, catalogued 91 ways of telling the truth, 210 ways of lying, 166 types of nose and yet has only ever met 30 people it liked. A collector's piece, it generally falls into the hands of "lugals" - rich scumbags - but just at present it finds itself with Rosa, a 25-year-old authenticator who thinks the bowl is lying.

No sooner has the shape-shifting chunk of fired clay taken up residence in Rosa's flat than Nikki materialises, a supple bisexual trickster who proceeds to read Rosa's mail, steal her property and run blackmail and prostitution rackets from her living room. Rosa is oblivious to everything but the bowl and the parlous state of her love-life; oblivious even to the fact that Nikki is looting and shooting up. Rosa and the bowl tell each other stories: on go the hands, and the bowl burgles her memories while simultaneously blasting her with a few seconds of elephant racing or "a genial stretch of sunny Sumer on a good day".

In between serving up stories - the Undying Man, the Collector of Jericho, My Favourite Shipwreck, the Painter of Venice, all small miracles of compressed colour - the bowl observes the strange Nikki-induced comings and goings (mostly comings): a parade of randy policemen, washing-machine repairmen, circus freaks and Jehovah's witnesses; the mountainous lesbian ex-lover, who patiently returns the stolen goods; and a perverted hitman, Mr Annihilator, who drops in to rub Nikki out and ends up lecturing her on football, and on the difference between an ironic death and one's that's just implausible.

This blend of the supernatural with lowlife is reminiscent of Martin Millar's brand of Brixton magic realism, but embedded in the bowl's reminiscences are enough aphorisms to run a decent life on: "Bad acting on a stage might earn you harsh notices, but it nearly always works offstage"; "Manners evaporate with money, unless manners are the chosen perversion"; "Every time you drink champagne, you give money to a Frenchman"; and, of bleating poets: "They've got too little money to write. Give them a coin. They've got too much money to write. Take it away, they have too little."

Add to the rich mix a plethora of running gags: every story punchlines with a Village Shit, or failing that, a freeze-dried iguana; the bowl has a grudge against Gorgon vases; there's an unopenable jar of pickled beetroot; and all earrings carry occult messages (Nikki sports "a pair of boxwood earrings betokening shipwrecked mariners drawing lots, but fixing it so that the cabin boy gets eaten").

Perhaps there's a suspicion that Fischer's raree-show doesn't really go anywhere, and he does drop a few of his stitches, but his comic invention is matchless: just take the bravura non-sex sequence involving Nikki, Marius the lugal who's terrified of infection, a limousine, a gun, a champagne bottle, a battery of tests, an impromptu haircut, and a passing gay man. I think it would be fair to say that for Fischer, more is still not quite enough.

Comments