If you've ever read Jesse Bullington, then you know he's quickly become known for his darkly humorous, delightfully obscene, disgustingly fantastic tales of humans failings and obsessions. His characters are no more attractive than the vulgar language with which he tells their tales, and nothing is ever safe - or, worse, sacred. While The Folly of the World tries a bit too hard to top its predecessors in terms of characters or narrative, it's still a fascinating tale that offers up Bullington's most traditional (and, for some readers, satisfying) plot to date.
As far as set-pieces go, it is hard to top an entire medieval town submerged beneath the waters of a great flood. It's creepy and surreal, with chimneys and peaked rooftops just poking up from the waters, dead bodies floating alongside giant catfish, and a cemetery mound rising above it all. Drop a young girl into the midst of it all, sent to swim her way through one dark, flooded house in search of a hidden ring, and you've got a definite sense of adventure. Leave a pair of scoundrels in the boat up top, one a coldly calculating bastard, and the other a violently unhinged madman, both of whom take carnal pleasure in one another - often with their ward watching - and you've got a definite taste for the darkly surreal.
Of course, that only carries you through a third of the tale. It's what happens once Jo retrieves the ring that really matters, a story of plots, counter plots, secrets, and betrayals. Time and time again, Bullington teases you into reevaluating everything you thought you knew, and tempts you into second-guessing everything you felt about the characters, their motives, and their personalities. I've never before come across an author who could so deftly sway my feelings towards a character, not just from like to dislike, but across the entire spectrum of disgust, admiration, and then back again.
For me, it was Sander, the madman with a taste for violent erotic asphyxiation, who kept me reading. Despite being a low-life scoundrel with a temper as sharp as his wit, Sander is also a man with a conscience (as deeply buried beneath the muck and mire as it may be), who is at least honest about his vices and his fetishes. Reminding most of the characters who drew me into The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death, he serves to provide a much-needed contrast to the often hidden ugliness of the characters around him. While its the Jan-Jo and Jan-Sander relationships that launch the tale, it's the Sander-Jo relationship that carries it through to the conclusion.
Strangely, I found that Bullington's attempts to provoke the reader were actually more transparent here, and not in The Enterprise of Death, as many readers have suggested. Perhaps that, coupled with my gradual dislike for Jan, is the reason I found the whole to be slightly less satisfying than his other work. Regardless, a new book from Bullington is always a refreshing addition to the shelves, and fans of his grim, cynical, darkly humorous work will find this to be a thoroughly engaging read.