As a rule, the books I read aren’t funny. They have funny moments, but I wouldn’t describe any of them as comedic. This isn’t by design, the plots of the books I tend to choose just don’t lend themselves to comedy. For example, Will’s curse, in The Infernal Devices? There is no humanly way to make that funny.
Doughnut is the exception to my completely serious life as a reader. And I loved every second of it.
Before I launch into the story, I just want to talk about the cover. When the book was given to me (well, lent; I’ve already given it back) I was convinced that the original cover had broken and this was an emergency design. Notice how the words look drawn on? I actually had to run my fingers over the cover a few times just to double check. But, no, this is the cover. Weird, right? There’s even a “coffee stain” on the spine that looks legitimate. I was worried I’d defaced the book without knowing. Luckily, this was all by design. Cool, huh?
Doughnut follows the story of Theo Bernstein after he loses his job at the Very Very Large Hadron Collider (because he blew it up and cause a mountain to collapse) and after his university mentor, Pieter Van Goyen, passes away and leaves Theo the very confusing contents of a safety deposit box. The contents led Theo to a very confusing, very complex, incredibly cool piece of technology called YouSpace. YouSpace, in layman’s terms, allows travel between parallel universes.
Holt is a genius, there’s no two ways about it. Holt takes an overly complex theme such as the existence of parallel universes, boils it down to its bare essence, and then beefs up that essence with humour. And all without excessive exposition. Actually, with no excessive exposition. There’s a little at the end of the book, where Theo explains how he came to certain conclusions about YouSpace, its inventor, and his life in general, to another character, but I felt like this was making fun of the practise of “summing up” plots in books. It felt like I had somehow jumped into a Sherlock Holmes novel, as Theo explained all of the clues and red herrings that led him to his various discoveries. It was brilliantly done.
What I loved most about Doughnut was the structure. That’s definitely a weird thing to say, but allow me to explain. Throughout the book, there are these seemingly out of place paragraphs, sometimes pages, describing “The Word”. You know: In the beginning was the Word… and all that. This doesn’t make sense. At all. Until the very last paragraph of the novel. And then Holt ties it all together. I may have clapped with glee a little at that one. See, playing with structure is a risky thing to do. You risk alienating, or at the very least pissing off, your audience. These paragraphs left me confused. Of course, I overlooked that because these paragraphs were hilarious. But to have them tied up, and in such a perfect way, made me happy in a way that only good writing can.
I’ve gushed about the humour and I just want to clarify this a bit. Humour is something that is really, really hard to get right in the written word. In every other art form (except maybe abstract visual art), humour can be portrayed by tone of voice, facial expressions, body movements, and an array of other things. But in books, all you have are words on a page. Do you know how hard it is to get someone to laugh at just words? Tumblr texts posts do not count. Holt somehow managed to keep me laughing consistently throughout the whole book. Not once did his jokes go stale. In fact, he always took his jokes one step further than he needed to, just to keep his readers on their toes.
The bottom line is this: Doughnut is hilarious. But not only hilarious; it’s engaging as well. A book about inter-universal travel could be overly technical or overly full of exposition, but Doughnut is neither. If you’re in the mood for a little sci-fi with a lot of laughter, this is the book for you.