Book Review: Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley

I got an e-book review copy of Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley, which is a great book by blogger Danyl McLauchlan, by asking the publishers for one on Twitter. I read it over the next week and then didn’t review it for a month, mainly because I am not very good at reviewing things.

Part of why I’m not a good reviewer is that I am inherently suspicious of criticism and reviewing, especially when so much criticism reads like a laundry-list of ways the critic would have done the book/movie/whatever better, and also because so many reviews are self-indulgent diatribes that say more about the shortcomings of the critic than what they’re reviewing, like the one I am writing now. Part of the problem is that I have an attention span of about a nanosecond when I’m doing anything that isn’t playing a good videogame or reading, which is why I desperately seek those activities out at the expense of much else in my life, and why I looked at Twitter several times while writing this sentence. (Twitter is a website written by ten million people, nine million of whom are arseholes and all whom are writing about Donald Trump.) I also have a bad writing habit of aimlessly beating about the bush for several paragraphs when I should be getting straight to the point.

I am a bad critic. I’m a terrible reviewer. I loved Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley.

That’s the review done, but you can read the rest of whatever this is if you like.

I reviewed the electronic book version of Mysterious Mysteries, which was fine. It has words in much the same way as real book does, which makes it easy to read, and I read it on my Kindle, which is an excellent device but after years of use has some dead pixels in the lower left-middle of the device. This was a bit distracting at times, but I still managed to read the book, which is great.

I wanted to pull bits of text out of the book and write profound things about them, as if I was writing a proper review. The problem with reviewing the e-book version is that it’s hard to flip through to the places that I liked (there were many) so I tried “highlighting” them, which is a feature Kindle books have. It allows you to be yanked out of the narrative of whatever you’re reading because a dozen or so strangers have spotted a particular profundity. Because I didn’t know how to use the highlighting function properly it meant that I skipped to random chapters of the book whenever I tried to highlight something, which turned Mysterious Mysteries into an accidental hypertext novel. Fortunately, it kind of suited it, because the book is weird and great. I managed one successful highlight. It reads:

“The beams of light picked out rolling eyes, webs of undulating flesh, contorting orifices.”

Isn’t that wonderful? That’s from the best drug-fuelled orgy scene I’ve yet read, and I’ve read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction.

Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley has a plot, which is good. By the end of the book it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, which I didn’t mind at all. It has many jokes, which are deeply funny. There are lots of profound bits too. I related deeply to the depressed narrator called Danyl (one of three narrators: the other are a lunatic called Steve and a dog) who’s accidentally sort of quite good at some things but maybe not as good as he thinks he is, and is sad a lot of the time. I liked how the Aro Valley is depicted as a rotting, damp, squalid shithole full of crazy people. It seemed almost like a real place. I also liked the crowbar called “Lightbringer.”

I read a lot of the book on public transport and the jokes kept making me laugh aloud, despite the social pressure that exists on buses to silently stare straight ahead and listen to music as the driver plots to – one longed-for day – drive their passengers into the depths of the ocean. If my laughing offended anyone on the bus, fuck you.

One of the many benefits of Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley (which is an excellent book) is that you will learn a lot about science and maths, or at least I think you will, because I don’t actually know anything about maths. It is entirely possible that Danyl was making it all up. I am fairly sure that the stuff about the malevolent sentient Platonic Ideal mathematical universe is made up. Oh, and Danyl also frequently uses “they” and “their” as a third-person pronoun which I liked a lot.

Here is a bulleted list of things that are in the book in no particular order and written from memory:

  • Danyl
  • Maths
  • Mathematicians
  • A chapter written from the point of view of a dog
  • Antagonist(s)
  • A giant
  • Gorgon
  • Steve
  • Drugs
  • Cultists
  • The Aro Valley
  • An orgy
  • A spiral
  • A local body election
  • A dog
  • Clever and funny satire
  • Mindmaze (the thing in the book is not actually Mindmaze, the excellent minigame from Microsoft Encarta 95, but I couldn’t stop thinking of it as that.)

The book (which is very good) reads like a frenetic mash-up of Douglas Adams, Dan Brown, and HP Lovecraft. I’ve never actually read any HP Lovecraft, but I’ve read enough pastiches and know enough pop culture to feel like I have. I have, however, read a shitload of Douglas Adams and Dan Brown. Readers of Adams’ latter-day career Dirk Gently books will find a lot to enjoy. So will readers of Dan Brown, but for different reasons. I should probably say something semi-fashionably haughty about Dan Brown at this point but I’d rather not. I honestly quite liked Angels and Demons.

I also liked Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley. It was very good and very funny, so you should reward Danyl McLauchlan for this by buying it and, optionally, reading it. I think there is a decent chance that you will find it funny and very good also.

If you want to read something informative as opposed to what I’ve just written about Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley (it’s good!) I recommend this piece by Elizabeth Knox.