Set in 1999, this novel tells the story of an innocent abroad, Felix Radstock, a man without purpose, drifting through life with his artist girlfriend Aurora. Suddenly approached by Gordon Lewis of the Department of Development Overseas (DoDO), Felix finds himself in Guyana in South America tasked with a statistical investigation of the labour force.
Nothing is what it seems; everyone has their own agenda and nobody tells the truth, but Felix ploughs on through a sequence of humorous disasters: he eats iguana eggs by mistake, endures constant threats from government officials and smugglers alike, flies in a tiny plane with a pilot who drinks rum and nods off to sleep, accepts hallucinogenic substances and is bitten to pieces by insects while trekking in the bush.
Finally, Felix reaches the vast mines in the interior which are destroying the landscape, polluting the rivers with mercury and luring local men away from their families to danger and potential death. He is forced to face harsh truths about the plight of the Amerindians and their culture and, at last, begins to feel his report might do some good. But will anyone read it? Does anyone care? Does Gordon Lewis actually work for DoDO at all? And what was the real purpose of his visit?
The character of Felix is well-drawn as he evolves from a confused and floundering innocent into a man with a mission who now wants to make a difference. The author is clearly very familiar with Guyana and its huge problems and some of his descriptions of the rainforest, the heat, the insects and the eccentric people Felix meets are memorable.
The cover suggests that the novel is ‘wonderfully funny,” but although I found it very amusing in parts I also found it quite bleak. Dealing with very real issues of ecological destruction and the global greed of multinationals the novel is not as lightweight as it seems at first. It is very thought-provoking and would provide much discussion for book groups. I could also easily imagine the book being turned into an entertaining film.
Gwenda Major 4/4
Down in Demerara by Mike Manson
Tangent Books 9781910089774 pbk Nov 2018