As a writer I know the value of good reviews, so it would be disingenuous not review the best novel I’ve read since I was last compelled to review one. This is while being yellow with either jaundice or envy at how perfectly this book is executed. Even Lee Childs likes it. It’s enough to make me weep into the first draft of my new novel. Lawrence Osbourne is even likable despite having written his first novel back in 1987 on an olive farm in Tuscany.
Despite being widely unknown and criminally ignored by the literary awards cartel back in London, Lawrence Osbourne lives the life every writer hopes for. He’s lived everywhere, often while writing a novel with a stray dog at his feet. He has stared at life and said ‘yes’ not ‘later’.
Living in Bangkok alone would adequately answer ‘So what attracts you to this job?” but it’s just one location he’s mingled with. He is the archetypal rakish novelist abroad. Do you want to party at millionaire riad parties in Morocco? Read The Forgiven. If you want a missing young schoolteacher in Cambodia? Read Hunters in the Dark. I would go on but I’ve not read the others (yet).
His recently published Beautiful Creatures is more of the same, i.e. well-poised prose. The eloquently tight observations, often of outsiders in alien environments remain, only this time there’s also a breathtaking pursuit through Italy, and (slight spoiler alert) just when you want guns to feature – an Italian Benelli Montefeltro Silver semi-automatic shotgun no less – you get them.
We find ourselves with two twenty-something girls semi tanned and semi-bored on the Greek island of Hydra, who met a young Arab man who has been dropped off by boat from who knows where. The allure of the unknown flirting with the rash idealism of youth soon associates with unexpected twists of fate, yet always with an extraordinary lack of judgment or political correctness on the part of Osbourne. It’s startlingly contemporary.
The novel does what I aim to do. In place of postcolonial guilt, shades of regretted love affairs and stubbed-out Gauloises, he gives literary fiction a story. And the story is only predictable in that it turns into every corner you want it to; as opposed to many novels these days that spend too much time navel-gazing to look at the road. There’s magnificent sense of place. Anyone who’s spent a fortnight on a Greek island will recognize the smell of countless donkey generations, ouzo and the dry scrape of cfafe plastic chairs beneath that ancient aegean sun.
He says “novels should be bleach boned”, which is exactly the sort of advice budding writers don’t want to hear, as it intimates hard work. He then rubs salt into the wound by adding “it’s a question of cumulative observation and lived suffering. It takes time.” Damn him, but at least he follows his own advice. If I’m honest his much heralded (by me) last book Hunters in the Dark is forgettable compared to Beautiful Creatures. He’s finding his stride in his late 50s. This an absorbing, beautiful and exciting read. Prepare to get lost.
Originally published on Idle blogs of an idle fellow
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