James Blaylock has stated that his favorite novel is Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-1767), and this explains much about not only The Paper Grail but also, in varying degrees, the rest of his fiction. Nothing much happens in Sterne’s novel, but a grand time is had by all, especially the reader. Much of the point of Sterne’s book is that life is such a complicated and ambiguous activity that very little purposeful action is possible. One distraction leads to another, which leads to another, and so on, a process that rarely ends where initially intended. Blaylock’s novels are not that diffuse, but it is obvious that his characters are more interested in the side trips than in the destination.
The Paper Grail follows the personal formula that structures most of Blaylock’s fiction, whether set in the contemporary world, Victorian England, or an alternate universe. A group of likable, comical, obsessive eccentrics does battle with a group of hateful, comical, obsessive eccentrics. Into this mix comes a single “normal” individual, the “hero,” on a mission of some sort. He gets ambiguous assistance from the good grotesques and faces obstacles—some ludicrous, some dangerous, some both—from the bad ones. After many episodic, bizarre, funny encounters, the hero finally clears up the mysteries, fulfills his mission, and “gets the girl,” if there is one to get.
For better or worse, Blaylock’s...
(The entire section is 571 words.)