The proof of the novel is in the reading!

Posted on July 24, 2012


Fisherman don’t smell he own basket – Bahamian Proverb

There’s lots to like in Buckner’s Thine is the Kingdom.  It’s one of those books that if you picked it up in a swap at a backpackers before a long bus journey or day on the beach, you’d gulp down and feel satisfied.  Well, as satisfied as the proverbial Chinese meal.  It’s not a book that’s going to sustain you for very long, but it’s tasty for all that.

The story is simple.  Returning backpacker, Gavin Blake, needs a Bahamian passport; a passport denied him since, although his mother was Bahamian, his father was American which negates his claim to citizenship.   One assumes he’s been backpacking the world on a perfectly serviceable U.S. passport. His Bahamian papers therefore represent something other than a need for a border-opening booklet – it’s a quest for identity, a sense of belonging that his shiftless life has denied him.   During this quest for legitimacy the only job legally open to him is as a boat hand – boats are considered stateless. Our hero thus spends the novel in a legal and geographic limbo.   Through his employer, Jacob Thesinger, he is thrust into island ‘society’, a society whose conversations mirror those of middle-class dinner parties the world over – the feckless under class who evade tax, the best way to avoid tax, the lack of law and order, the decline in standards and services, the fish market that doesn’t have planning permission, the smelly inconvenience of the great unwashed in general.   The difference here is that it’s not just the chitter chatter of the chattering classes. These denizens of Bahamian society carry guns and mean to use them.  Just how far will Gavin go to fit in?

Overall, the book reminds me of Alex Garland’s The Beach.  Paradise setting – tick.  Hero wanting to impress a group he feels to be superior – tick.  Sense of evil wafting in on the gathering storm clouds – tick.   Actual storms – tick.  Death – tick.  Ends justifying the means – tick.  Hero realising that belonging is less important than being true to one’s self – tick. Sense of time running out – tic, tic, tic, tic, toc.

Where Thine is the Kingdom differs from The Beach is in its sense of authenticity. Rightly or wrongly when faced with a hero carrying the same initials as the author (Garth Buckner – Gavin Blake), I assume there are autobiographical elements at play. Certainly in Buckner’s case the characters and setting feel drawn from life.  Buckner brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of The Bahamas through its weather, architecture, people, and patois.  The underlying ambiguity in Gavin’s attitude to the place he wishes to call home and which rejects his claim also rings true. As does the portrayal of Gavin’s complex attitude to his chosen home.  He needs to be acknowledged by his country yet is reluctant to acknowledge the reality of that country; the bribery, corruption, violence, lawlessness.   Despite living on the sidelines (literally in his boat), he has to accept the little illegalities of daily life if he wants to legitimise his position and move into its centre. It’s a question of ‘if you can’t beat them…burn down the illegal market.’   Everyone ends up grubby to a lesser or greater extent. Welcome to paradise and have a vice day!

Now to my big issue with the book…The book is littered (not an exaggeration) with typos, malapropisms, grammatical errors, tautologies and logic gaps.  The publishers must take a large part of the blame for this, but so too must the author.  It is simply not good enough to run the text through a spell checker – ‘ridged’ does not mean the same as ‘rigid’ (this word was misused twice). Surely he means border guards and not boarder guards? Or maybe they have police patrols on surfboards.  And –  a personal bugbear – if someone tells a joke, you don’t need to write, ‘he joked’. It should be obvious. ‘Agghhh!’, she agghhed.

While reading, I turned over the corners of any pages that contained mistakes – the novel ended up twice as thick as when I started.    It is annoying to be pulled up short every few hundred words. It’s laziness. And when readers have been asked to pay £11.25 (average price for a book is £7.99), it’s at best disrespectful, at worst, contemptuous. Microsoft is not paid as a proofreader or editor, YOU ARE! As you can tell, I’m miffed.

Of course, I’m now open to the criticism that I’m a fisherwoman who can’t smell my own basket (she said proverbially).   Sod’s Law dictates that the blog is full of typos and that I’m twice as thick as when I started. But hey, at least you didn’t have to pay £11.25 for your reading pleasure (she heyed).