A Room Full of Elephants by Anthony Camber

A Room Full of Elephants by Anthony CamberFusing satire, office politics, and experimental physics, Camber creates a tale that sits equally well beside Tom Sharpe or Douglas Adams without being a copy of either.

Keith works as a software tester for a start-up in Cambridge. When he isn’t insulting his colleagues, he bickers with his husband, Nick, and submits to his cat, Ziggy. The biggest niggle in his life is how much the developers can break while he’s away from his desk – until the day an elephant, tiny but perfect in every way, emerges from the stump of Nick’s leg. Using a combination of rigorous methodology and bloody-mindedness, Keith sets out to track down the cause.

A tiny elephants springing from the stump of someone’s leg like some fusion of Ganesha and Dionysus in suburban Cambridge is almost unavoidably absurd; and Camber milks that absurdity for all it’s worth. From attempts to scale short distances to experiments in architecture, the elephant in the room is the centre of attention.

However, this book does not rely solely on that absurdity. Interwoven threads of observational humour, dialled up half a notch to hold their own, about software testing and homosexual relationships add (hopefully) exaggerated framework of more mundane social commentary.

While the novel easily stands as satire, it works equally well as a science-fiction thriller. After portraying the absurdity of tiny elephants appearing, Camber then shows the reader the entirely plausible consequences of the implausible having happened.

Camber’s portrayal of same-sex marriage is equally based in plausible humanity rather than superficiality or parody. Although circumstances place an extreme, and at times comical, burden on the union, this is very definitely a marriage between two people who happen to be gay rather than a commentary on such marriages.

Keith is a well-crafted protagonist, his almost excessively structured approach to issues a perfect counterpoint for the incomprehensibility of tiny elephants popping out of someone’s leg. Displaying both a disdain for deviation in others and a penchant for doing the wrong thing to see what happens, he will be instantly recognisable to readers familiar with quality assurance; yet is in no way a stereotype.

Shaped by his disability – yet not defined by it – Nick is a similarly rounded front-person for a nuanced supporting cast..

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. I recommend it to readers seeking high-quality satire or science-fiction that raises questions without losing its lightness.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

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