In this delectable satire about Hollywood and extinction, Geoff Nicholson serves up a complicated recipe of has-beens, wannabes, maybes, and a few dodos - both literal and figurative. British physician Henry accompanies his aspiring actress and yellow-toothed daughter Dorothy to Hollywood where she is supposed to meet with a talent scout. On the airplane, their paths cross briefly with self-described "Auteur of the Future" Rick, a young man prone to panic attacks and bouts of self-importance. Rick harbors an obsession with dodo birds which leads him (and the reader) to the mysterious story of William Draper, a 17th century medical student afflicted with erythrohepatic porphyria, a genetic condition that causes skin to blister with exposure to sunlight. Draper, too, is obsessed with dodos, and sets out to procure one of the last of the species on display in a seedy quarter of London. As Henry discovers a similarly afflicted man trying to sell him an animation cel of a dodo, as Rick struggles with a bizarrely vivid past life regression brought on by a beautiful one-legged woman, and as Draper tries desperately to find a mate for his beloved but aging dodo, real-life intrudes on film, becoming art in itself, and questions arise about what is contrived and what is real. And of course, since this is a novel, those questions ultimately mean nothing since all is fiction.
With chapter titles cleverly named after movies, Nicholson never loses sight of the artificiality of the genre he is mocking. The scenes that take place in Hollywood are hilarious, while Draper's affliction and affections are touchingly told. Perhaps the most daring turn is Nicholson's dovetailing of disparate plot elements into a wild, unexpected finale. While much is left unexplained, the narrative wink at the end brings it all together.
This is a truly fun novel. Nicholson's wit is more sly than biting, and he relishes the absurd. Below the hilarity lurks more serious themes - of corruption (what else in Hollywood?), of obsession, and of mortality - but these ideas never alter the established tone. Readers will find that they can't put this novel aside for more than a few hours before picking it up again to devour the next chapter.