Monday, 19 March 2007

a bit meh.

It's interesting thinking about how one jumps from book to book. There's usually some reason for choosing the next book, but quite often it's not anything totally logical for something you're going to invest a fair bit of time in. Which reminds me of that book Nick Hornby wrote about what books he read one year and how he chose them.

Anyway. I came to this book because I didn't have anything to read and was just about to fall back on my old trick of reading something I already knew. Then I remembered that my brother had just bought a stack of new books off Amazon, which was a bit of a (pleasant) surprise because in general he's not much of a reader. Most of it was Russian stuff, and I knew there was a Bulgakov there which I thought I might try because I really liked 'The Master and Margherita'. But he was halfway through that one, and so suggested I read 'The Fountain at the Centre of the World' by Rob Newman who I remember as a comedian on the Mary Whitehouse Experience, a very funny show which you probably won't remember unless you lived in England in the early '90s, or had Foxtel with extras for the very brief period that they showed it. Here and here are a couple of the funnier sketches from it including Rob Newman. So I guess I didn't really know what to expect from this book, but based on Mary Whitehouse I had an idea. This flailed a bit when I read Newman's bio in the back and he didn't mention his time as a stand-up comedian at all - it was all about his activism etc. Which really gives you a better indication of what you're going to get which this book.

It's about 3 related men, all of whom have ended up in very different parts of the world. Chano is a Mexican who is living in hiding after attempting to blow up some commercial pipes which were polluting his town's water supply. His brother, Evan, was adoped at birth and lives in London, working as a PR consultant to a huge multinational company whose motto is 'it's easier to change what people think about things, than change things themselves'. He is essentially making it easier for the kind of companies that are polluting Chano's watersupply. Evan is also dying of a tropical disease that only exists in poor countries. Then there is Chano's son Daniel, who grows up in Costa Rica(?) and in search of his father eventually ends up in America with a group of English activists.

So it's an interesting setup, but in the end it wasn't really that compelling. Not painful like 'Nausea', but I certainly wasn't rushing home to read the next chapter either. I felt it dragged on way too long, and because of this there was no suspense left in the plot. Also, Newman uses lots of metaphors and imagery that I just didn't feel worked. They seemed quite stilted and forced and I noticed everytime he used one, which if they were done well I really shouldn't've. The other thing that annoyed me was that there were quite a few typographical errors - words misspelled and words missing from sentences. This I find really annoying in a book because it shows that no-one's bothered to read it carefully pre-press. But these are things that I'm probably a lot more picky about than most.

For a book all about activism and globalisation etc. etc., I also felt like it wasn't clear what the author's was trying to convince me of. I assume I was supposed to conclude that the extreme power of big-businesses to make the world a better place for a few but a worse place for the majority is in general a bad thing, but it just didn't seem that clear cut. I suppose you could argue that maybe Newman didn't want to make a clear statement but just wanted to get people thinking, but I think it was more just the result of the whole thing just not quite working.

The author did create some interesting and endearing characters, and there are some funny scenes, like the one with a girl sitting on top of a building at a protest and dangling doughnuts in front of policemen on the end of a fishing line. But all in all it's too little to make the book really gripping.

So I guess unfortunatly I wouldn't recommend this one, unless you happen to be really into books about activism and the like. What a shame.

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