By Marty Mulrooney
Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence is the new novel by award-winning writer Michael Marshall Smith (The Straw Men, We Are Here). It tells the story of Hannah Green, who has decided that her very existence is unfeasibly mundane. That is, until she discovers her grandfather has been friends with the Devil for nearly two hundred and fifty years…
Humans and stories need each other. We tell them, but they tell us too – reaching with soft hands and warm arms to pull us into their embrace. They do this especially when we have become mired in lives of which we can make no sense. We all need a path, and stories can sometimes usher us back to it.
That’s what happened to Hannah Green. She got caught up in a story.
And this is what it is.
Narrated in a warm, bedtime story manner, Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence – an absolutely lovely mouthful of a title – does a wonderful job combining the ordinary with the extraordinary. At its centre is Hannah, an eleven-year-old girl that lives in Santa Cruz, on the coast of Northern California. Her life has become a repetitious, never-ending cycle of school, homework, food, bed. What’s more, her mom and dad have stopped living together for reasons she doesn’t fully understand.
Meanwhile, the Devil wakes up after an extremely long nap to find himself on the terrace of the Palace Hotel on Miami’s South Beach. After dealing with an irritated waiter – who sadly falls to his death soon after – the Devil sets off to find Hannah’s grandfather, who is much older than he looks. After all, he is the Engineer. He built the Sacrifice Machine, a mechanical device designed to take evil energy from the world and send it directly to hell. Only now, the machine isn’t working…
‘Bloody pelicans,’ muttered a voice. ‘Useless for riding on. Bony, flappy bastards.’
The Devil waited while Vaneclaw got himself to his feet and came to stand in front of him.
‘Hello, boss. Had a good day?’
‘No. Give me good news, Vaneclaw, or none at all.’
The imp stood there and said nothing.
Vaneclaw is an accident imp (his job description is fairly self explanatory) that also happens to look like an extremely large, four foot tall mushroom. Reuniting with the Devil for the first time in many years – during which he made a man called Ron’s life a misery – he provides much needed comic relief as the story progresses. He is Michael Marshall Smith’s most charming and likeable side character since the talking alarm clock in One of Us, and steals every scene he’s in.
It would be easy to imagine, with it’s gorgeous cover art and quirky title, that this book is aimed at younger readers. However, this is quite clearly a book for adults – and children who can convincingly lie to their far too uptight parents. The story itself is always engaging, but it’s the way Smith writes the central character that makes the journey worthwhile. Her relationship with her grandfather and the way she deals with the ongoing breakup of her parents is exquisitely written and beautifully authentic. Life is messy at the best of times, even without the Devil’s interventions.
‘Mom, we have to go.’
‘It’s not safe here. We have to go.’
‘I can’t leave,’ her mom said, near tears. ‘Ever. There’s no escape. There’s no way out. I have to hide.’
‘There’s always a way out,’ Hannah said.
Even at over 350 pages, this is a novel that finishes far too soon and feels all too brief. It’s an endearing page-turner that effortlessly flits from one scene to the next, dragging the characters along by the scruffs of their necks. Apart from the Devil of course, who plots his own course, a course that is never predictable, with motivations that are not always apparent. As a tale taken literally it wavers here and there – not all questions will be answered, some plot threads simply fizzle out – but the underlying themes are always present, waiting to be lovingly embraced.
The beauty of Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence is that it takes the mundane and makes a strong argument for its true value. Often, the mundane is simply something priceless taken for granted. Dark, funny and thought-provoking, this is a book that will delight adult readers while providing the perfect ammunition for the next time a child laments that their life is so boring.
9 OUT 10