Aesop is fourteen. He is not innocent - nor is he exactly experienced. His knowledge of crime is limited to drug-taking and car-theft on the Hackney estate where he lives; his knowledge of sex to what he observes his friends doing. But when Ludwig James knocks him over in his chauffeur-driven car one evening in King's Cross, Aesop enters a world where the law is broken on a far grander scale and the illegal has become so much a part of the social fabric that it is almost indistinguishable from it. Sarah May's startlingly accomplished first novel evokes an ailing England, riddled with corruption, whose inhabitants live among the remnants of its great colonial past. An abandoned lino factory, a decrepit Victorian butterfly house, the ruins of a megalomaniac labour colony in the Brazilian rainforest: intense, cinematic images preside over a grippingly sinister narrative and a cast of lovingly observed characters, each a criminal in their own way, each reaching towards redemption. A HEART OF DARKNESS for the late twentieth century, this is a remarkable and unforgettable debut. (2000-08-01)
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Reclusive millionaire Mack Velli is the owner and self-styled emperor of The Nudist Colony, a stretch of virgin rain forest that is the biggest piece of privately owned land in the world: "Jara: a four million acre dream." Velli builds a paper-making empire on migrant labour and a vision of ruling the world when it awakes to his prophesy that "by the year 2000 Brazil will be the only country in the world still able to produce paper". Ten years later Ludwig James, Velli's protégé, loving lieutenant and former overseer of Jara's "continual stream of labour" has swapped the shadows of the rainforest for the nebulous London underworld, nursing the pulp of Velli's doomed dreams and a disfiguring skin disease "unchristened by any Western tongue". When Ludwig's limo collides with Aesop Whitmore outside King's Cross station, the illiterate, expectant Hackney teenager finds himself adopted by the possessive Ludwig and drawn into London's criminal jungle:
He was given things to do, people to call, trains to ride and liked the word "protégé". But his brother said it was all wrong: there was an official word for boys like him, they were spivs. "Spiv" described the relationship without defining it, the lack of reason that made people speak of love.Monomaniacal millionaire Mack; the diseased, obsessive and violently fond Ludwig; tenderly exploitable Aesop; Dr Achilles, Ludwig's emotionally clinical dermatologist who collects human specimens from among the dispossessed, and Douglas, the one-legged chauffeur who drives, murders and loves his wife with equal dedication--these are the gently ironic characters out of whose emotional topography Sarah May shapes the landscape of her first novel.
Plotted among the symbolic, claustrophobic debris of Victorian industrialisation, May's archetypes of late 20th century degeneration seek salvation in each other in their attempts to escape their fate as human hosts to an unnamed epidermal epidemic. She demonstrates a skill for keen characterisation through emotionally freighted dialogue and high impact metaphor. Readers who prefer stronger plotting should persist with the early ambiguities of this novel--May pulls together the momentum of this story in a plot that is weighted more successfully in its second half.
Reminiscent of Doris Lessing's surreal fantasies of urban degeneration in novels like Memoirs of a Survivor, this is an ambitious first novel that, in the words of one of its characters, "leaves its fingerprint behind". One of the most indelible impressions of The Nudist Colony is its stripping back of contemporary England to the decaying architecture of empire that underpins it. --Rachel HolmesBook Description:
A startlingly original first novel about the demise of the British empire. London Fields meets Heart of Darkness. (1998-12-17)
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Book Description Vintage, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 99289563
Book Description Vintage, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0099289563