Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Albert Sánchez Piñol: Pandora in the Congo

Christian House reviews Albert Sánchez Piñol's Pandora in the Congo.
It's no surprise that in these confused metro-sexual times a resistant force should be celebrating the kind of manly yarns mastered by Victorian and Edwardian popular novelists. The fatalistic trajectories of military endeavours and grand expeditions have gripped a new brace of writers. The late, lamented George MacDonald Fraser may have headed off to the great barracks in the sky but plenty, from Mark Gatiss to James Delingpole, have picked up the regimental colours and stood their ground. It's back to the days of mutton-chop whiskers and billiard-room brawls, when men were men and women learnt needlepoint.

Front of ranks is Albert Sánchez Piñol whose wonderfully spooky debut novel Cold Skin was an icy tour de force. For his follow up, Pandora in the Congo, he shifts his focus from the Antarctic wastelands to the jungles of central Africa; the action playing out as the world caves in to the madness of the Great War.

Marcus Garvey (not the Marcus Garvey, Piñol likes to play around with famous names) is the half-Balkan, half-English manservant attending William and Richard Craver. The Cravers are the spoilt, malevolent offspring of one of the army's greatest heroes. They aimlessly lounge in the shadow of their father's fame until William, the cleverer and more callous of the pair, devises a plan to mine the undiscovered depths of the Congo. Marcus is cajoled into helping them through the inner capillaries of the heart of darkness, all the way "to a latitude empty of men".
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