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Madness is better than defeat: Review

 Friday, 1st September, 2017

Staff member, Maria Mendes, reviews last month's Book Club pick 'Madness is better than defeat'.

49th street in Manhattan, a diver wrestling an octopus, all bets are off.

This eccentric event is the catalyst, the moment in time that sets the tone to what follows, a tale that goes against all odds and possibly all reason.

Spanish Honduras: the epicenter.

1938. Word has it that a group of French archeologists ran into an unidentified Mayan temple while exploring the deep jungle near the town of San Esteban. Only two returned from a party of nine, delusional but disturbingly lucid in regards to the ruins.

With World War II on the verge of breaking, only two enterprises seem to take interest in the matter: Elias Coehorn’s Eastern Aggregate Company and Arnold Spindler’s Kingdom Pictures. While the first summons his rabble-rousing son of the same name to disassemble the temple and bring it back to New York, the latter allures the aspiring director Jervis Whelt to use the ruins as scenario for a new picture titled “Hearts of Darkness”.

The two expeditions, unaware of each other’s existence, set off into the unknown. 

Chaos ensues when, running a few days behind, Whelt arrives to find only half a temple standing – and that’s just the beginning. As weeks become months and months years, the plot at the settlement develops in a “Lord of the Flies” fashion.

The elaborate events depicted in this novel are brought to us by Zonulet, a dying reporter turned CIA operative who is writing his memoir to use as evidence on the case for which he is being tried. Step by step, his retell will unearth obscure secrets and uncover astonishing twists that are but the tip of the enigmatic iceberg that is this story.

Is madness better than defeat?

With a number of characters that could rival George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones”, “Madness is Better Than Defeat” is a psychedelic constellation of moments, an intricate puzzle of events, a perfectly designed cobweb that seems to fade into the horizon instead of meeting its edges.

There is no doubt that Ned Beauman is clever and beyond talented, but I must confess that his writing, his wording, came across as arrogant at times. However, in all fairness, there were equally riveting passages, sometimes beautiful, sometimes sorrowful, many times humorous.

Dive in with your eyes closed, expect no answers or understanding.

The inventive implausibility of Jonas Jonasson’s “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” meets the singular rawness of William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” with a spark of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” on the side.

“Madness is Better Than Defeat” by Ned Beauman is an one-way ticket to an adventure that promises to be all that is right and wrong, all that is good and bad, all that is conceivable and unlikely… and every single thing in between.

Defeat? It’s madness.