Odohohol & Cally Rascal – Pot One by Matko Srsen. Book review

Odohohol & Cally Rascal – Pot One by Matko Srsen, translated by Celia Hawkesworth, Istros Books, 2013, Price £8.99

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

The translation from the original Serbo-Croat produces a clear, grammatical style which is easy to read. As with all translations occasionally words fail but in this publication these are few and far between.

There are distinct features with this tale that delight, not least that this is Pot One. Apparently the Great Taleteller secretly cooks up stories in a cellar deep under the earth which he then hides in a small pot. Then, when he has collected a number of such pots he puts them on a cart pulled by an old horse called Nag, who sounds like Boxer from `Animal Farm’, to take them to the Deserted Track where the natives take a pot to warm it up. This makes Mr Mouse, dressed in an old frock coat, bow-tie and bowler hat to leap out from the pot to supervise the telling of the story to the great delight of the audience whilst he consumes a hearty stew.

You see there has been a war and the wicked ones, known as the Masters of The Universe, have been victorious. All the cities have been destroyed, books and libraries erased from the earth and the surplus population annihilated by gas chambers, ovens and chimneys to ensure that life can be happy. Anyone who is unhappy risks being found out and made to disappear by the Smoke Guardians, who look like people in the day but as smoke at night. The parallels with episodes in our common European history are clearly intended causing the reader to look for hidden meanings. None are readily detectable other than a sense of irony, but culture can be a fickle beast.

The story begins with the people of the Deserted Track living almost wild outside The City. The surviving children are divided into squabbling groups, including the Ruffians and the Deserted Track gang. Their struggles are overseen by an old man, Allknower who is the last of the good people, hiding out in a desolate landscape.

Somehow a portion of humanity has evolved the ability to transform into mind-readers, a facility cheerfully adopted by the Masters of The Universe, although others such as Odohohol and Cally Rascal acquire it as the tale progresses. A tortoise known as Socrates plays a significant role in this respect.  Whilst the Masters of The Universe remain devoted to their old computers, the developing facility of thought transference is changing the nature and content of humanity at large. An evolutionary confrontation is developing.

The Enchanted Land, possibly the product of a collective human consciousness, could be found in the railway tunnels below Allknower’s oak tree and became the receptacle through which Odohohol and Cally Rascal defeat the Masters of The Universe. The story reaches a climax with Odohohol, now a White Knight, ordained by the Father-Guardian, fighting off a Black Knight to defeat the Old Witch at the Witch School where Cally Rascal has been held prisoner.

This is a fascinating read which employs a complete battalion of cultural motifs to embody the fight between good and evil in a post-apocalyptic world. It is a relatively short novel which limits the detail and the explanations available, but it remains the product of a strong imagination that utilises an entire gallery of themes and perspectives. If a larger pot had been utilised from the outset then the recipe could have been a lot richer.

The price is a bit heavy for 159 pages but a translation has had to be funded along with Mr Mouse and his stew.