Monday, March 28, 2016

An outrageous waste of trees: Gabriel Packard's The Painted Ocean

I've complained often on this blog about quotes from famous authors on covers of new books that praise the buggery out of the 'masterpiece' you've plucked off the shelf and tempt you to buy it.

More often than not they lie. 

The endorsements for Gabriel Packard's debut The Painted Ocean come, among others, from highly regarded authors Colum McCann and Darin Strauss. This is what Strauss says: 

Gabriel Packard has written the sort of book publishers, readers, the whole world is hungry for: a thrilling and literate debut, a smart page-turner that takes your emotions and wraps them around its brutal, quick fist. I sat to read the first page of this novel and blew the rest of my weekend finishing the whole blessed thing.

Colum McCann similarly enthuses: 

A major new literary talent .... a fearless tour de force.

Well, here's my quote that prospective readers should heed:

This book is garbage, an outrageous waste of trees. It's one of the most stupid books I've read in a long time - stupid on every level. It has absolutely no merit at all. It's utter trash. Don't waste your money. Buy something else, anything.

Eleven-year-old Shruti is from a broken home in suburban England, living with her Indian mother who can't speak English. Shruti is subject to awful racism and bullying at school and is then abandoned when the mother comes under pressure from her family to return to India to remarry.

But then another Indian girl, the sassy, beautiful, street-smart Meena, a real male fantasy creation if ever there was one, turns up at the school, befriends Shruti, serves it up to the bullies and completely transforms Shruti's life. 

Shruti becomes obsessed with her, following her to high school and university. Meena invites her to join her on an adventure holiday to India. 

And then.....the book plunges from male fantasy to utter absurdity. And it gets not just ugly, but revolting. As it turns out, Meena also has  succumbed to obsession. In a cultish way she's been sucked in by a fascist, authoritarian, rapist white thug called Steve. They imprison Shruti on an isolated island off the Indian coast, where Steve brutally rapes Shruti every night before making 'love' to Meena.

So we quickly descend from disaster porn to depravity porn. It is relentless. 

Shruti eventually escapes and navigates a small, stolen fishing boat all the way back to England - seven thousand miles away!!

Where, of course, she thrives.

So we are meant to take this ridiculous narrative seriously. I tried to figure out what this so-called literary author (who thanks Peter Carey and Colum McCann 'for their invaluable advice and support') was getting at. What was his point? Is the novel anti-cult? Anti-Indian? Anti-misogyny? Anti-colonial?

No, none of these things. The book is just a tedious and shameful exercise in degeneracy.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I rarely am.