Synopsis: Sitting in his caravan, drinking what is left of his coffee (dust), Otto has narrowly escaped death at the hands of allied bombs. Convinced his luck has run out and he will not see morning, he decides to record the story of his life for the poor soul who finds his body.
And what a story it is. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a newspaper article was brought to his attention. Why? Because in it was a picture of a particular Turkish prince, called to Albania to be their new king. And this prince just happens to bear a striking resemblance to Otto.
A plan is formed, adventure is born and with the help of Otto’s friends, enemies (and a camel), Albania is about to get a king it never bargained for.
If You Are Reading This, I’m Already Dead, Andrew Nicoll’s third novel, is at heart a joyous, rip-roaring romp of a tale, so utterly unbelievable and completely ridiculous that you can’t help but be swept along by this sensational story. In many ways, though, this is far from Andrew’s tale; it is that of Otto Witte, former talented acrobat, possessor of some simply wonderful whiskers, and King of Albania. All he has now, sat in his little caravan as the bombs fall around him and he awaits his death, is his memories, and a story that he is determined to tell before it is his time to go.
In what can only be described as an outrageous narrative, Otto takes us on his daring, death-defying journey from the life of a circus performer in Buda or Pest – in his old age he can’t seem to remember – to the throne of Albania. It is a decision based on a whim; a photo that looks exactly like him, but surely not enough to pack up, steal a camel and a cash box, and depart from town? Apparently so, as this is exactly what he does. Sensing adventure, his friends agree to accompany him on his crazy quest; even if some are more reluctant than others.
A blind, intelligent professor; his beautiful daughter Sarah; the wild, provocative character of Tifty; Otto’s best friend Max, strong as an ox and as loyal as they come. Let’s not forget the camel, of course. Nicoll creates a wonderful web of characters that will help Otto on his ludicrous quest, seemingly destined to end in failure. From duelling with a maniac named Varga, who first arrests them and takes an unwelcome fancy to his best friend, to a shouting match with a stationmaster, based on impulse and improvisation. Otto reminisces of the past as the ash blows down from the sky and the flames flicker outside his home.
Otto knows he has precious little time left, and is brutally honest in his anecdotes, bringing a mixture of colourful language and many boastful hints at his youthful adventures with the ladies. Otto, ultimately, is an endearing character; the reader feels for him as he sits alone, a former shadow of his once illustrious self, and nearing death. This for me is what makes Nicoll’s novel a marvellous creation: the blend of humour and of humility that is shown as the narrative switches between his previous life and the one he suffers in now.
Nicoll’s writing is captivating; he engages the reader and makes you feel like your part of the journey. Swept up with Otto’s journey, the incredulity that you feel at such a preposterous tale is soon forgotten as you get caught up in the vivid picture Otto, and thus Nicoll, creates. From boisterous brass bands to the strange and mysterious Arbuthnot, Otto and his friends must face many obstacles if they are to achieve the impossible aim of conquering Albania.
Then again, with a camel in tow, it should be a breeze.