Seymour Herson is the most unpopular boy in his class. There are three twenty-seater tables in his lunchroom, and forty-one students. Seymour has the third table all to himself. Until, that is, the fearsomely rich Elliot Allagash arrives and makes Seymour an offer he can't refuse: popularity.
Part coming-of-age story, part high school satire, Elliot Allagash is one of the cleverest books I've read in a long time. Absurd, exhilirating and sometimes just plain odd, this tale of one boy's pact with the devil has had some mixed reviews - but I have no idea why. It's genius.
We see events through the eyes of resigned loser, Seymour, but it's Elliot Allagash himself who really steals the show. The only son of an impossibly rich widower, Elliot is keenly aware that his money makes him hugely powerful. As a human being, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He's ruthless, manipulative and utterly without empathy for his peers. But as a character, he's fascinating. For Elliot, life is all about cheating. From fixing the results of a school election to enacting overblown revenge on anyone who dares to slight him, it's like sport to him. He disects the world around him with a cold detachment, exploiting his opponents' weaknesses and revelling in his own cleverness.
Which is why, from the moment that Elliot tells Seymour - the most unpopular boy at Glendale Prep - that he can make him king of the school, we know it's not out of the goodness of his heart. And yet, there's something so clever about Elliot's methods that it's impossible not to feel at least a little impressed by them. Besides, there's an element of wish-fulfilment here for the reader too: who doesn't want the likeable loser to seize power from the hands of those who ignore and torment him? Simon Rich weaves a tale as enticing as it is entertaining, spiked with potent dark humour and just a dash of poignancy. Occasionally we have to suspend our disbelief a little further than is comfortable, but it's worth it - and easy when you're having fun. While drawing lightly on familiar tales of genies and Faustian Bargains, Rich tells his story with a fresh voice and with his own brand of endearingly quirky symbolism.
Elliot Allagash is unusual, hilarious, and deceptively smart. I'm not in the least bit surprised that there's a movie adaptation in the pipeline, but I would recommend checking it out now in novel form for something deliciously different.
Out: August 5th 2010, UK / May 25th 2010, US
Thanks to Serpent's Tail for providing a review copy of this book.