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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Gravity's Volkswagen

Geoff Nicholson

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To purchase Gravity's Volkswagen

Title: Gravity's Volkswagen
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 203 pages
Availability: Gravity's Volkswagen - US
Gravity's Volkswagen - UK
Gravity's Volkswagen - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 15/8/2009 Isobel Montgomery
The Independent . 31/7/2009 Kim Newman

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nicholson's jokes stick to the main routes, but it's a fun ride as long as you keep an eye out for hidden dinosaurs." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "It plays with the familiar Hollywood-hack horror story and the post-apocalypse road warrior image, but turns back on the narrator -- whose attitudes and career are nicely squashed, and capped with a hilarious bibliography of other Ian Blackstone books (dead-on jibes at an array of possible models). Like the VW itself, the novel is lightweight but sturdy, and covers a lot of mileage for the expenditure." - Kim Newman, The Independent

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As if the title were not homage enough, Gravity's Volkswagen begins: "A screaming comes across the tarmac", in further homage to Thomas Pynchon's classic novel. Volkswagen Beetle's play a significant role in the novel and they even fly through the air, V2-like, but Geoff Nicholson's novel is a much smaller one than Pynchon's. And, despite the Pynchonian touches, Gravity's Volkswagen is also a Nicholsonian novel, through and through, complete with VW-obsession (which also manifests itself here in a few brief chapters of VW-Beetle trivia, tossed in just for the hell of it, as well as a "Veedub Glossary"), an English author-protagonist who finds himself in the US, quirky characters, many obsessed in their own peculiar ways, etc.
       Gravity's Volkswagen is narrated by Ian Blackwater, author of such classics as The Phallicist (with a protagonist who: "ceases to be a man with a penis and becomes a penis with a man attached"). Against all odds, one of his books, the "dystopian satire" Volkswagens and Velociraptors, is being turned into a movie -- and part of Blackwater's contract entitles him to visit the set at the film company's expense. The bulk of Gravity's Volkswagen is the story of that visit.
       The novel, Volkswagens and Velociraptors, is set in post-apocalyptic London and pits the only survivors of the catastrophe -- members of a VW Beetle owners' club -- against ... yes, velociraptors, awakened from millions of years of suspended animation. Some liberties are being taken with the story in the film -- and rather than being filmed in London or on a sound stage it is being filmed "in a trailer park in Fontinella" -- which is: "kind of an industrial wasteland". Among the difficulties filming there poses is that the speedway next door is not, in fact, abandoned, but rather in fairly constant use by "Motorhead Phil's Famous Automotive Freak Show".
       Blackwater drifts back and forth between the (boring) movie set and the speedway -- where he is particularly taken by one of the acts, in which a woman, Leezza, leaps across rows of VWs in her souped-up Beetle. There's also sad-sack Barry, who has pretty much given up on life completely and now lives entirely in his (non-functioning) Beetle -- to the extent that:

He's morbid. He's obese. He's stuck in his shell. The body of the car has become his exoskeleton, his prison. It's a tragedy. It's a travesty. It's a metaphor.
       Barry has something of a death wish -- "But it didn't do me any good. Wishing's not enough" -- and in an attempt to liven up the show (and perhaps get Barry the spectacular closure he needs) they eventually line up Barry's VW along with the others for Leezza's increasingly long jumps, with the risk that eventually she'll fall short and crush him.
       Meanwhile, the autocratic director of the movie is having trouble maintaining any sort of control -- self or other -- and things do not look good for Volkswagens and Velociraptors: the movie. Needless to say, worlds and characters collide (though the velociraptors, to Blackwater's continuing chagrin, are nowhere to be seen in any form), worlds come crashing apart, and nothing winds up quite as planned.
       Nicholson's characters tend to be drifters of various sorts: his narrators drift through life rather aimlessly even when they have an occupation (like Blackwater does), but here it is the secondary characters that really are adrift (or stuck fast inside their VW Beetles). A security guard may get fired, but he keeps popping up in different guises, and by the end -- the final chapter is a coda of sorts, taking place six months after the bulk of the action -- many of the characters have reinvented themselves and found new roles.
       Despite the quirkiness of many of the characters and the plot, Nicholson is a realist (hence the running gag of the velociraptors -- the sort of thing Nicholson could never actually employ in his own novels), and his novels very often are strikingly true to life -- and so also Gravity's Volkswagen. Like his characters, Nicholson doesn't display very much ambition, but Gravity's Volkswagen is a very genial ride, with enough cleverness and wit to make for very agreeable entertainment. It's fairly unremarkable, but makes for very enjoyable pass-time reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 August 2009

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Gravity's Volkswagen: Reviews: Geoff Nicholson: Other books by Geoff Nicholson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Geoff Nicholson, born in Sheffield in 1953, has written a flurry of novels. He lives in London and New York.

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