Can a something be both tender and hardboiled concurrently? Melancholy Noir? Wistful Pulp? Clearly I think it can, else I wouldn’t be asking the question. Osama is both, all of these and more; but ultimately it’s just singularly brilliant.
Where to even start? The plot? An alternative history in which our everyman hero, a P.I. called Joe (Joe!) is asked to investigate the author of the wildly successful Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante pulp novels by a woman who may or may not be inhabiting the same reality as him, and so on. A list of influences? Dick (of course), Greene, Chandler, Kafka, Caroll, Conrad, and so on and on. Themes? The War on Terror, the War on Drugs, fundamentalism, colonialism, memory, agency, and on and on and... The writing? The pacing? The characterization (or perfectly appropriate lack thereof)? It’s all wonderful: profound, disconcerting, and a borderline mind-fuck.
“This was not the future he had expected. There were no flying cars, no silver suits, and the only aliens walking in the streets outside were human. There were Arabs and Indians and Chinese and Malay, Jews and Africans, a whole planet of refugees seeking shelter in the mothership that was London. From here wars had been launched, colonies conquered. From here, this great big sprawling administrative centre, an empire had been managed in triplicate. No wonder we come here, he thought. The city was a cuckoo-bird mother, taking children that did not belong to it, annexing them, bringing them up in a strange mix of missionary activity, trade exploitation and good intentions. When the time came and the children wanted their independence, the mother was hurt, and they fought. And now some of the annexed children, who were not children at all, came back, because they had nowhere else to go.”
I feel I should write something clever or thoughtful to show how I’ve ‘engaged with the work’, possibly using the word 'metatextual', but in honest truth every time I think I’ve got a handle on it my grip slips, I look up and realize I’m still pissing about in the foothills. Ask me in twelve months; I guarantee I’ll still be climbing.
As a coda, I should also point out that the short story The Last Osama is, at least as I write this, available for free from the author’s website. It acts as a post script to the novel with regards to events in Abbottabad, and it too is great. Why wouldn’t you?