Sunday, January 19, 2014

Water Music

The last time I went to Mexico on vacation I took a real dud of a book along with me. Stendhal's The Red and the Black.
Definitely not a beach read! Have you ever done that? Taken the totally wrong book with you on vacation?
So this time around I didn't want to make the same mistake. 

Having recently discovered that I very much like the writing style of T.C. Boyle, I took along Water Music -- and it was a good choice.
In this, his first novel, Boyle fictionalizes the adventures of an actual 18th century Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, whose obsessive mission it was to chart the course of the Niger River in Africa. Sounds boring? Trust me, it isn't. And trust me, it's more fun than Stendhal.
Boyle has two threads going throughout the book, and intricately brings them together in the final portions. He weaves the story of Ned Rise, a lifelong criminal from London, with that of Mungo, the explorer. Ned is adept at escaping death many times over, and leads a life of rampant profligatry, whoremastering, and chicanery. Mungo, on the other hand, has one thing on his mind, and that is to get to the Niger River and establish himself as a key figure in the history textbooks of the world. Many men have tried to map the Niger before and have failed. Mungo is persistent, and carries out two expeditions. His absence is devastating for his wife and family, left behind.
It really is an amazing look at the almost insane sacrifices made by intrepid explorers like Mungo. The bulk of the book really delves into the extreme deprivations, dangers and hardships faced by Mungo and his team. And it raises the question: What does it even mean to be the "discoverer" of a "new" region of our planet -- when there are people that already live there and look upon you as an interloper rather than the next guy to make it into a textbook about them.
Africa does not want him there! And it doesn't want Ned there, either!
At times quite comical, others deadly serious, I found Water Music to be a ripping good book overall. It made me add T.C. Boyle to an ever lengthening list of Authors I Want To Read In Their Everythingness.



Danielle said...

I have Lots of authors like that--read one book and then begin collecting everything else they've written! And I have brought the wrong book on vacation, too. I always think of those long airplane rides and how I will be stuck in that seat and what a perfect time to be industrious--but boy how distracting plane rides can be and you have to be really careful when choosing a book. So--glad to hear you chose wisely this time--the story sounds really good, and TC Boyle is one of those authors I meant to read and have several of his earlier novels! Don't you wish the warm weather would have fallowed you home?

Stefanie said...

Sounds like a good one and perfect for a vacation!