Gollancz, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07558-9
As the unnecessary sequel to the Harry Potter parody Barry Trotter And The Shameless Parody, Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel actually sees the author Michael Gerber writing something more than a mere parody. There are times in this book when – dare I say it? – Mr Gerber seems to be creating a story of his own altogether. I can’t help but to wonder what this book could have been if it isn’t trying to be a parody. It just may be a good scatological fantasy story in its own right.
Where we last left Barry Trotter and friends, he was married to Ermine Cringer and all is well in Hogwash as the evil Lord Valumart is smashed and JG Rollins churns out more bestselling books based on sanitized versions of Barry’s life, drawing more non-magical humans or Muddles to Hogwash for groupie activities. In this book, Barry is thirty-eight, balding, and is stuck in a job he hates. He’s still the same old Barry that doesn’t know what he wants in life and he just knows that what he has, he isn’t sure if he likes them much. His wife Ermine is more sensible but that’s just in comparison to Barry. They have two children, eleven-year old Nigel and three-year old Fiona. Nigel is born without magic, much to the dismay of his parents, and worse, he is into games like Attorneys and Accountants and dreams of being a balding stuffy pencil-pusher whom Nigel feels is “normal” and hence the way to be.
It all begins when Nigel begins school at Hogwash. Barry and Ermine go along because Hogwart is also holding a reunion for the old gang. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the headmaster Draco Malfeascance drops dead (literally) and Barry is appointed the new Headmaster. Between trying to fix things so that his kid becomes the king of the heap and the much-oppressed Grittyfloor triumphs over the Silverfish, Barry is struck by a dreaded spell that causes him to become younger and younger each day. At first Ermine is delighted as Barry’s sexual stamina at thirty-eight isn’t what it used to be, but if Barry keeps getting younger, than means one day he’ll pop back into pre-conception stage (meaning, he’ll be erased from existence). Can Barry, Ermine, the dog-brained Lon Measley, and other halfwits of Hogwash reverse the spell on Barry and save Hogwash from the latest disaster to plague it?
This book isn’t as laugh-out-funny as the original, but that’s because for a long time, Mr Gerber is actually creating a more well-thought out story instead of merely dropping in laugh-a-minute scenes into his book. Nigel’s feeling out-of-place in his school to his becoming top dog will make any prison movie heroes proud, and Nigel doesn’t even have to bend over in the showers to get there (maybe Mr Gerber overlooked that part). Mr Gerber’s Hogwart is a claustrophobic meat-factory, the meat coming from hapless students that get killed daily from the ridiculously dangerous modus operandi of Hogwash (just take a look at how they play Extreme Quiddit), but there is a well-developed and coherent sense of absurd being the whole thing. Instead of merely exaggerating and lampooning the elements in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Mr Gerber comes really close to creating his own crazy fantasy world sometimes.
It is only in the late third of the book that the author loses control of his story. The scatalogical jokes are amped up in frequency while the story derails into paper-thin lazy contrivances that, while usually acceptable in a parody, in this case seem unworthy after all the effort the author put in his story earlier. He also goes on his soapbox, which is pretty annoying. Still, I like how he almost turns Barry into a truly sociopathic jerk towards the end of the book, almost being the (disappointing) operative word here. I really want to see Barry lose it and join the darkside.
Unlike some quick and rushed efforts to cash in on the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchise out there, Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel actually reads like a very well-planned and coherent story in its own right for most of the time, albeit in a scatalogical, disgusting, violent, and crude way just like how apparently parodies are supposed to be nowadays. There are times when I actually forget that I am reading a Harry Potter parody, which makes the lazy way the story is wrapped up even more disappointing. This is a book that is already much better than what it set out to be, but at the same time, it could and should have been so much better as well.