Another peach from Sky Atlantic. What a channel it is.
It’s a deeply black comedy with a character list of bastards. Maybe not Succession-level bastards, but not far short.
Set at an idyllic Hawaiian Island hotel resort, only reachable by boat, a bunch of blowhard white privileged twats arrive to be met by a bunch of deeply troubled staff that range from the recovering alcoholic/narcotic gay Hotel manager to a striving native American spa host and wellness instructor.
Each character is flawed in one way or another and what this does is light a touch paper to a week of increasing mayhem where their individual psychoses and prejudices build to a constant underscore of Hawaiian folk music that thrums and crescendoes as each of the six episodes unfolds.
It would be bad of me to spoil this by revealing the plot. Instead I’ll just say that each character is given sufficient airtime to reveal their true character as they impact on each others’ lives in a totally unpredictable way.
This is very fine writing and character acting, across the board.
Truly outstanding drama that is laugh out loud funny but deeply troubling. Proper black comedy at its finest.
There’s no question that John Lanchester can apply his journalistic background into a dystopian vision that’s alarming and original. What he can’t do is write character studies very effectively so it adds up to a very good story but only passably told. Nonetheless I think it’s worth your while passing the time with this interesting novel.
It’s set in an undated future where the world has annexed itself, country by country, into imposingly walled territories. The seaside has gone (a result of climate change) as the UK (where it’s set) becomes an imposing barrier to unwelcome visitors. Two year national service, of a sort, is a requirement for young people, Defenders, who are punished with expulsion to sea if the Wall is breached by Others during their shift.
It’s a fairly brutal regime with freezing cold 12 hour shifts where literally nothing at all happens, most of the time. Two weeks on, two weeks off for two years is a daunting prospect for our new conscript Kavanagh and we witness the first few months of uneventful boredom pass slowly by as he describes in detail the drudgery of his now horrific life.
Of course an attack eventually comes and that changes everything. It would be a spoiler to say any more at this point but as the book develops the story moves from a dispassionate description of the setting into a more textured telling of the story and Kavanagh’s relationships with a number of the key characters. That’s where Lanchester’s limitations are exposed.
But as an allegory for Trumpism, racism and the vilification of refugees (I hate it when they are labelled immigrants) it’s a powerful read – not quite living up to its OTT marketing splurgel as the 1984 of our day. It isn’t even close, but he has a good bash at it.
Like me, you possibly read this book at school. In my case over 40 years ago.
I recently joined a book club at work and we specifically read books either by Black writers or books about racial prejudice. This clearly falls into the latter camp and the choice to read it came from a a left-field suggestion by my wife that we revisit the past.
So we did.
It’s much lauded, selling over 30million copies and winning the Pulitzer Prize.
A morality tale for the times (1960 but set in 1936). It tells the story of black oppression and racial discrimination completely through white eyes, worse, children’s white eyes.
Not one single page features a contribution from the central (struck mute) protagonist Tom Robinson – frankly even the character’s name is redolent of hokey deep southern central casting – but, hey, maybe that was the idea.
It paints the picture of an Alabaman township where a strange resident (Boo Radley) lives holed up in his house next door to brother and sister young Scout and wise Jem Finch. Boo scares the bejesus out of them (is that why he’s called Boo?) by simply being reclusive.
He’s the first harmless Mockingbird of the title.
The second is an uneducated Black farmer (Tom Robinson) enticed into a trailer trash home by a seductive young hick who, having been stumbled upon by her paw, screams the house down accusing him (completely falsely) of rape.
He’s taken to the local kangaroo court, tried for the fake rape and is defended by Scout and Jem’s dad (oddly known to them by his given name, Atticus).
Atticus, Jem and Scout seem to be the only open-minded folks in the town which quickly earns him the reputation as a “nigger lover”.
The use of this word is liberal and the polite version (negroe) was clearly the acceptable version of the time, but its repetitive use is also quite startling.
It’s a very odd read indeed, terribly trapped in time with much outdated language and a dreadful naiveté. Maybe that’s deliberate, I suppose, because Harper Lee chooses to make the young Scout the author in a bid to open the eyes of the reader to the illogical nature of the inherent prejudice of the town.
But it also serves to make the book uninsightful and frankly, quite boring.
The structure is clumsy with the two mockingbird stories only loosely related and with no real link other than as a storytelling device.
But it’s the lack of a Black voice that most troubled me in this. Tom Robinson is cast as stupid (stoopid and ign’rn’t) and has no way of repositioning himself. The only Black voice is of another lovable central casting character, the cook and housemaid, Calpurnia who looks after the motherless Scout and Jem as her own.
Sure, it’s a coming of age novel with a purpose, but I found it banal and patronising.
The characters are wholly unrounded and the entire conceit naive and unsubtle.