I think I’ve found my favorite book of 2018.
When I received Darren Dash’s latest novel, Midsummer’s Bottom, I already knew I was in for a treat. Here’s an author who’s never let me down no matter what name he’s writing under (Darren Shan, Darren O’Shaughnessy, and D.B. Shan are some others). Dash’s previous book, An Other Place, was a delightfully mad gonzo romp, and while promoting Midsummer’s Bottom he promised it would be even more experimental and out of left field.
So what treats does Mr. Dash have in store for readers this time?
In a word: Shakespeare.
More specifically, Shakespeare as presented by an amateur theatre company.
Even more specifically, Shakespeare as mangled by the worst amateur theatre company in the world.
Midsummer’s Bottom follows a fun-loving anarchist who’s been charged by the real-life Puck to destroy the Midsummer Players, whose annual production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has caused endless woe and embarrassment to all the Fey world. You see, Shakespeare didn’t singlehandedly invent this famous whimsical tale. It turns out all the characters in his play are based on real fairies, and as part of an agreement between the playwright and his mystical inspirations, all of Fey land must attend every single production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” staged in our world. Tiredsome as such an agreement might get, nobody has managed to botch the play quite as badly as the Midsummer Players, and the fairies have decided this is the last time they’re going to endure such punishment.
Now, your first thought might be ‘How much fun can I have reading about a group of theatre hacks?!’ Put those worries to bed without supper, for they’ve underestimated the abundance of backstage drama present in any theatre troupe.
If you’ve ever performed in an ensemble group, you know exactly what I’m talking about: someone’s too pretentious, someone abuses their relationship with the director, someone’s sleeping with another someone who’s spoken for, and someone always initiates an orgy (okay, maybe those are just the theatre productions I’ve been in, but you get what I’m saying). Point is, Dash has obviously done his homework on theatre troupes, so the dialogue and actions of his characters ring true while remaining entertaining.
A small portion of the story (mostly the Fey dialogue) is delivered in iambic pentameter, a storytelling choice which was impressively executed. At first it turned me away, because I cringe with intimidation when I see iambic pentameter, but I quickly became used to it and was very entertained when one of the non-Fey characters mentioned how annoying it is.
Although this is experimental fantasy and not horror, the tension in the third act managed to keep me on the edge of my seat and unable to put the book down. In fact, I rarely set the book down at all once the large ensemble of characters was individually introduced.
Midsummer’s Bottom is Darren Dash at his best and most inventive form. I’m excited to share this book with my theatre friends, who will no doubt get the biggest kick out of it.