If I had to pigeon-hole Babyaga, it would be in the one at the end; the dusty one with all the stuff I’m not sure what to do with. There’s also a copy of Ned Beauman’s Teleportation Accident in there, which I suppose means the pigeon hole title might be ‘crazy novels set in Paris that contain peculiar protagonists and the CIA’. The two novels are similar in tone but I much preferred Babayaga. It has less pretension and lots more fun.
The premise of the novel is that centuries old witches are alive and running about post-war France. There’s not many left, but their magic is extremely potent. Strong enough to turn policemen into fleas or persuade somebody to gouge out their own eyeballs. It’s almost pointless to try and explain what happens in the book, I could never do it justice. There are several Americans all of whom have some connection to the CIA, several French policemen, one of them now a flea and a couple of witches; one crone, one seductress. They interact in ways only a fevered mind could invent. The book may have been created by Toby Barlow exploding an imagination bomb in a bucket of ideas and catching the spatter.
Such is the chaotic swirl of the book; multiple viewpoints, witchy shenanigans and Byzantine espionage networks – it took me a while to feel my way into Babayaga. Each page was undoubtedly impressive, Barlow’s prose I found eminently readable, but I struggled to understand the point of it all. As I read on, I found myself riveted. Underneath all the brouhaha, is a delicate and touching meditation on love, whether it be marital, familial, physical, or the love of one’s country and heritage. Many of the interactions had a profound affect on me, and some of them even made me question whether I might be looking at my own relationships from the wrong angle. The depth of emotion the book provoked took me completely by surprise, such is the irreverent nature of much of the story.
Whilst I can certainly see reasons why you might not like Babayaga, I can see countless more why you should. It won’t suit all tastes, but if you like a dollop of humour, a slice witchcraft and smackeral of psychotropic drugs with your spy capers then this book is going to tick lots of boxes. It provides plenty of thought as to whether it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Babayaga is a madcap tale filled with passion and heart, and is certain to be one the least pigeonholeable novels of 2014.
Many Thanks to the team at Corvus for sending me a copy of this book to review.