Saturday, May 29, 2010

All Quiet On The Orient Express: A Book Review

I haven't had time to be reading books for a very, very long while, and this little 211 page book took me a fair amount of time to get through. To be honest, I can't decide if I like it, or hate it.

Here, I am obliged to say, "Spoiler Alert!"

On the back cover of All Quiet On The Orient Express, the only synopsis it gives us is:

"A man accidently spills a tin of green paint, and thereby condemns himself to death"

I was very intrigued by this, and so began reading.

The main character is a man whose name is never once mentioned in the whole book. He's also never phsically described, although you get the sense that he's maybe in his late 20's. None of the other characters are ever really given much description either. I always like this practice of not giving the characters a face. It let's the reader use their imagination in full force. These characters could be anybody.

The book opens with him staying in a country campground, just after all the tourists have packed up and left. He gets on friendly terms with the man who owns the campsite, Tommy Parker (who's referred to as Mr. Parker for the rest of the book), and his daughter, Gail. Through conversations with Mr. Parker, we learn that our main character is just stopping here for a bit before, he takes his motorcycle on a long sightseeing adventure across land to Turkey, the rest of the Middle East, and finally to India.
In his interactions with the people of this quiet little... town? I don't know what it is, really. There's a lake, and a lot of the houses seem to be around it. They never mention anything else other than the pub, and the grocery store, so it sounds like it's even smaller than a town. A Village? Anyway, the people are all friendly enough to our main character, but there is something... off, about the whole situation.
Mr. Parker ropes our main character into doing a job for him. He would like the gate to his land painted. So, our main character goes about painting, and then accidentally knocks the tin of paint over. I got very excited at this, hoping it meant the story would pick up now, but... nothing really happens. Somehow, everyone in town hears about it, and they all begin to warn our main character of "Tommy's temper", which sounds very ominous.
Things go dandy for awhile. He helps Mr. Parker out with some more jobs around the campsite, helps Gail with her homework, joins the Darts League down at the local pub, and then... he realizes he's been in one place for too long, and finally sets out on his big adventure.

But he only gets an hour down the road before his motorcycle breaks down, and he has to wait in the rain for someone to give him a lift. And who should pick him up but Mr. Parker?

Mr. Parker offers to give our main character a lift back to the campsite, and let's him use the garage to leave his bike in. He also let's our main character use the "bothy", which I'm assuming is a little cabin. Our main character unpacks, goes into town to buy some essentials, and settles down again.

At this point, I'm starting to feel pretty desperate. I can see what everyone is trying to do. They're trying to keep him there! Mr. Parker is constantly giving him new jobs, like the big job of repainting all the boats he has in his shed. Gail gets him to do her homework, then practice darts with her. Hodge's, the man who owns the grocery store, Tony, the man who owns the pub, and Deakins, the man who has the milk route, all let him run up tabs with them, and you can just feel those tabs getting steeper and steeper. But he's forgetting his adventure! I want to grab him and shake him and make him leave! But at the same time, I can't decide if I like or dislike this main character. He's very nice, but so nice that he's really a huge pushover. He gets talked into doing so many things. After the fence painting, he's asked to repair the jetty. Then paint the boats. Then Mr. Parker hires him out to cut would for other people. Then he wants him to make a mooring for the boats. And repair the shed.
Then, because he missed a very important game of darts at the pub, he is told to lie low for awhile so all the locals can cool off and forget about it. He becomes stuck at the campsite, doing whatever Mr. Parker tells him to do.

We learn more about Deakins as our main character interacts with him more. Deakins, who runs the milk route, says he needs to talk to Mr. Parker. He was apparently convinced to start driving an ice cream truck around in his spare time by Mr. Parker, to make some extra money. But he's had enough, and needs to have a word.
Finally, he gets a chance to speak with Mr. Parker, just as campsite owner and our main character are going out in a little boat to test out the new mooring that our main character made. Deakins hops on the boat with them, but before he can even begin to tell Mr. Parker what has been bothering him, the mooring falls out of the boat, and plummets straight to the bottom of the lake. Unfortunately for Deakins, the chain wraps around his leg and drags him down too, ultimately drowning him.

And no one seems to give a fuck.

Our main character is a little unsettled, but that's pretty much it. Eventually, all the townspeople hear about it as well, but again, no one really cares. It's more like a "Hey, you hear what happened to Deakins?" "Oh, yeah." kind of reaction. And suddenly, everyone gets this bright idea that our main character should take over Deakins milk route! "You liked Deakins, didn't you? It'd be a kind of favour to him, you know, taking over his job." And he just does it!

Honestly, I almost put the book down at this part, because our main character was really beginning to disgust me. I really don't like such wimpy people. But I had to see how it ended. I already had an idea of what was going to happen in the ending, but I wanted to see it through.

So he takes over the milk route, and gets further and further from his adventure. One day, he picks up a hitchhiker on this route, and this hitchhiker turns out the be the fellow how was working for Mr. Parker before, a fellow named Mark (but he likes to be called Marco because he's an annoying douchebag). Our main character drives him back to the campsite, and finds that he's just returned from a trip to India. Mr. Parker tells Marco that he can share the bothy with our main character, and Marco continues to be an annoying, lazy bitch. The only nice part of the story so far is when our main character finds a whole punch of beautifully coloured paint, in maroons and golds and blues, and begins restoring the old boats to their former glory, rather than using the plain old green paint that Mr. Parker seems to have an abundance of.

It's Christmas Eve, and our main character is in the pub, drinking with Bryan Webb. Bryan Webb is one of the nicer people in town, but he's a bit of an eccentric who wears a cardboard crown all the time. I keep picturing him as Jughead. Our main character discovers that Bryan was only wearing the crown for a bet he made with Mr. Parker, who bet he couldn't wear a crown like that for a whole year (dumbest bet ever). Then you also discover that Bryan made a bet with Mr. Parker that he couldn't get rid of that surplus of green paint he had stored away. A worried feeling settled in my stomach...

The next day, Bryan Webb sans crown, shows up at Mr. Parker's to see about their bet. Mr. Parker goes to show him that all that green paint has been used in his boats... only to find them gorgeously restored, gold trim and all, which was exactly the opposite of what he wanted. He then throws a tremendous fit, finally living up to the warnings that the townspeople gave our main character. He starts hauling around the boats, trying to pick them up and throw them, and screaming about what Bryan is going to take for winning the bet. "Alright, Bryan! You've beaten me fair and square! So what are you going to take? Eh? How about my tractor? Or my welding gear? Come on, take your pick! ...Tell you what, you can take one of these bloody boats off my hands!" While Bryan replies "Tommy! Tommy... please, listen... I don't want a boat... really, I don't... look, there's something else I can take..."

And then Bryan Webb drives away in our main characters motorcycle, while Mr. Parker exclaims "That's settled nicely, hasn't it? You hardly ever used it anyway." And our main character glibly agrees, and the end.

And then I realized that they didn't mean he was condemned to death in the conventional sense, but condemned to death of the fucking soul. A slow, boring death of being stuck in the same place forever, being bossed around by people you don't even like.

I honestly have no respect for this character. He was a really nice guy by all accounts, but I dunno, I think he deserved this "death". He was too much of a pussy to do what he actually wanted, and now he's trapped in this backwards little shithole forever.
Still, at the same time, I kind of liked this book? I'm too tired to give any more of an in depth review on it. It's almost fucking 3 AM AGAIN, WHAT THE FUCK.

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