Lucy and Todd

A Bright Moon for Fools — Jasper Gibson

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on July 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

Harry Christmas is an English con-man whom we find on the run to Gatwick Airport (someone is chasing him), and then on a flight to Caracas. He’s just stolen £26,000 in cash from his girlfriend and wants to begin life anew. Once installed in a luxury hotel, he faffs about, drinking huge amounts of alcohol, impotently admiring the local women and fantasising about starting a business – perhaps a consultancy, or a bar. Then the £26,000 is stolen from him, he doesn’t know where or how. He absconds from the hotel, gets beaten up and throws himself on the mercy of a middle-aged Englishwoman. He pretends to be the novelist whose book she is reading (whose picture she hasn’t seen because her internet access is down), hides in her house and cravenly pretends to love her. But this doesn’t work out so well, and once again in extremis he steals money from her daughter and flees deeper into the jungle. There, things get even worse.

At first this seems a typical English “comic” novel: that is, full of bigotry, very bad about women and solely concerned to make harsh, tired little jokes about the class system. Christmas is a recognisable breed of anti-hero: there is, predictably, a bit of Lucky Jim, of Ignatius Reilly in him. The novel also bears a close resemblance to Brian Hennigan’s Patrick Robertson of a few years back, if only in the terror of the non-English-speaking world and the reliance on alcohol abuse as a plot device. There are a number of teeth-grittingly amusing scenes in the airport and on the flight to South America – Harry really is obnoxious, full of drink-fuelled sarcasm, a true adept at turning the things people say on their head and running rings around them. But the people he’s clashing with – boobish businessmen, teenagers who can’t help it that they work at the airport and stock upper-middle class types – are just so many Aunt Sallys. At this point you might expect that there will be a (mostly) satirical crisis and Harry will get his money back and perhaps become the god of some tribe.

But here’s the problem: there’s a bad guy. Yes – even worse than Harry Christmas. Slade (come on) is the stepson of the woman Harry robbed in London. He begins as an archly painted loner who has an exercise machine and attends Anglo-Saxon battle reenactments. (Even though it takes place in Venezuela, on one level this is quite a scathing book about England and what a horrible place it is. Anyone still in doubt on whether to vote Yes in 2014 should read it.)

Slade is nasty all right: when he isn’t raping people, he likes to torture cats. In Caracas he seems to adopt the look of Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers. But he is made of cardboard. His function seems antithetical to anything else the novel could aspire to. Every few chapters he does something odious, then Gibson suspends him in brine until he needs him again, which does a disservice to the plot and pace. The least you can say is that at one point, Gibson doesn’t let Slade do what you dread he will – but this kind of dangly plot-torture becomes wearisome. There is no insight to be found in psychosis. That’s why it’s called that. Slade makes the book far too ordinary: after all, Harry Christmas is really only running away from himself. He doesn’t require a psycho stalker – he has enough demons to keep the reader satisfied. More than enough.

Does A Bright Moon for Fools want to be a novel about not drinking? Does it want to be a novel in which an uncivilized white man ‘learns things’ in the jungle? Maybe. But once it leaves satire behind, it has nowhere to go, and winds up literally face down in the muck. Perhaps there is some point in watching Harry Christmas change from a sidewinder into someone who realizes far too late, for us anyway, that he’s a mensch. But it’s not much fun. It’s also disheartening to hear Hugo Chavez joked about, if only a little. Bad timing.

TMcE

(A slightly altered version of this review appeared in the Herald, June 1, 2013)

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  1. “this is quite a scathing book about England and what a horrible place it is. Anyone still in doubt on whether to vote Yes in 2014 should read it” – – – How can voting or not voting make England any less ‘horrible’ ?

  2. You’re right. There’s no saving it.

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