|Can that be Franz Kafka poking his head out?|
How can you resist a book that ends with a rendition of 'The Internationale'?
Well, that's a rhetorical question, which I will immediately answer: Not at all.
Danika laughed. 'I don't want to be rich, Dad. I'm going to be a socialist!'
And she sang the lyrics, taught to her by Mandy, of 'The Internationale', anthem of socialists all around and under the world.
Rise, people, from your sleep,
Rise, people, from your misery,
The earth is ours again.
We'll break the chains,
We'll change the rules,
We are poor and weak no more.
Now everybody sing!
From Danika in the Underworld, by Ranulfo (2003)
This is a book that makes me laugh out loud every time (it's damn health-inducing!), a book that makes me want to pick it up and quote bits to people. It's a book whose heart is absolutely in the right place, a right-on, kick-ass (sorry, kick-bottom) read for people of all ages.
Forget about going through the backs of wardrobes, or down rabbit holes. The entrance to the other world (um, underworld) in this book, is down the toilet.
Which is where Danika goes, to rescue her brother, Branwell (19th century literary allusion alert in children's book).
There, along with her left-leaning doll Mandy, she faces all kinds of trials, such as being taken to a children farm where they are being fattened up to be turned into burgers for cows. Though resisting the soft, easy life at first, full of fattening food and mind-numbing entertainment, Danika succumbs, and Mandy rescues her.
'I want my TV. I want my TV,' she droned.
Mandy jumped on her shoulder and slapped her hard on the face. 'Danika! Snap out of it!' She slapped her again and again.
'Playstation. Playstation. Playstation.'
'Listen to me, you adolescent imbecile!'
"Pokemon. Pokemon. I must collect them all.'
'Talk stimulatingly to me!'
'Boohoohoo,' cried Danika.
'Why are you crying?'
'I'm not cool. I don't have Nike.'
'Who's Nike? Is he your friend?'
'Mummy, let's go to Mc Donald's. Mummy, let's go to McDonald's. Mummy, let's go to McDonald's.'
'You're beyond my reach, you Zombiegirl.'
Eventually, Mandy 'tied Danika up hand and foot and read Shakespeare to her while feeding her a low fat, sugar-free, nutritious diet.'
It's a book that pokes fun at itself, or at people like me, who love it. But it is also, at heart, deadly serious. Or so I think.
Ranulfo, I won't ask if you're experienced. But are you serious?
So who is this Ranulfo?
He of only one name (like Prince, or Madonna). His bio at the front of the book is helpful:
"Ranulfo was born on an island called Bohol in the Philippines. He lived in a coconut tree with his monkey friends. Against his will, he was taken to Australia to be civilised. This proved to be a failure so he was sent to a lunatic asylum. He spends his time staring at the wall and writing novels. he is currently working on his third novel made of bricks."
The judging ordeal
I had read Ranulfo's earlier young adult novel, Nirvana's Children, but Danika would have
passed under my radar if I hadn't been judging the NSW Premier's Literary Awards in 2003-4. I had no trouble convincing my fellow inmates (an independent bookshop owner and a former school principal) to nominate it as one of six short-listed for the Patricia Wrightson Award, but I knew they wouldn't be adventurous enough to let it win. Awards are often compromises on what everyone can agree on (but you probably knew that).
And so to the man himself
He was at the awards ceremony, a gala event full of politicians and literary luminaries (sorry, breaking into cliche here) held that year at the NSW State Parliament House. Former Labour Prime Minister Gough (Whitlam) walked by as I was in the lobby sipping a bubbly wine. And, gosh, is that Janette Turner-Hospital brushing past me on her way to the toilet?
No wonder I found Ranulfo lurking after the dinner in the darkened area outside the dining room, solitary with a glass of wine. I don't remember what I said, or he said, except that he seemed shy (horrid judge-lady gushing at him), so I went and gushed at his publisher instead, and she kindly sent me a copy of Danika's sequel, which wasn't quite as good. (I ended up sending it on its way via Bookcrossing. It started out at Caddie's Coffee shop in Lismore and ended up with someone's kid sister in Melbourne.)
I read a library copy, and now the library doesn't have it any more. And you know me - I forget the content of what I read, but I remember that I found it an extraordinary YA book by anyone's standards. Extraordinary book.
His writing is like Murakami crossed with Dostoyevsky, with overtones of John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces.
I mean it's colloquial, and dark, and fun, and intelligent, and precise, and never dull.
I do wish he'd write more. I haven't seen a new book by him in years.
Ranulfo, where art thou?