Buy Chasing Moneymaker at WHSmith.co.uk
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey read by Rupert Degas
Lisa Darnell on The Ship of Fools, Chasing Moneymaker, and Lili
Saturday March 23, 2002
It is unusual for a first-time novelist to sidestep the confessional, but 24-year-old Gregory Norminton has found inspiration in Bosch's 15th-century painting for his boisterous debut, The Ship of Fools (Sceptre, £12.99). Picture the following, precariously crammed on a wooden boat going nowhere fast: "three choristers, an immodest bather, a drunkard vomiting, a drunkard snoring, a glutton, a fool, a monk, a woman drinking and a nun, in voice, strumming a lute". As the characters lapse in and out of a Chaucerian/ contemporary street patois, each entertains with a story, some more bawdy and some more boring, than others. Hats off, though, to a young novelist trying to do something different, or at least to do something familiar in a new way.
Out in the real, seafaring world of David Masiel's Chasing Moneymaker (Sceptre, £16.99), men tend either to end up as breakfast for polar bears or to choke on their own vomit after a big night on the Listerine. Seine is a merchant seaman who loathes his job and whose wife, sick of waiting for her errant husband, has left him for her male secretary. Stranded in the frozen Alaskan waters, the luckless Seine seems to have the kiss of death; one by one, his shipmates die around him. Eventually he joins a mission to save a scientist (the Moneymaker of the title) stranded on a melting ice-island. Could this be the job that finally gives his life meaning? If you are a sucker for men-only adventures in very cold places, this could be for you, if only to discover who comes out of it alive.
East meets west in Chinese writer Annie Wang's Lili (Macmillan, £9.99), which spans the decades from the cultural revolution to the present day. Lili is an "unemployable good-for-nothing with a police record, a disgrace, a single woman without a decent boyfriend". While her parents are reeducated in the provinces, Lili lives as part of a street gang in Beijing. Here, she falls for American journalist Roy, an insufferable do-gooder who waves his currency notes around while caricaturing "real" Chinese people in the western press. Through Roy, however, Lili acquires a taste for western life and learns to see her country's struggle anew. Culminating in the 1989 slaughter at Tiananmen Square, Wang's story lays bare, in raw prose, a very private China failing to resist the forces of change.