Gary Braun’s novel, Coco Was Paradise, reminded me of all the reasons why I can’t stand info-dumping in novels.
The story is set in San Sebastián, Spain. Arthur Washington, an Australian of part-Spanish decent, is holidaying there, with plans to walk the Camino trail if he can find his way out of the bars. After Arthur is discovered at the bottom of a cliff, bloodied and broken-boned, he struggles to piece together what has taken place. From there, a famous film producer uncle, the girl of his dreams (Coco), the apartment of an opera star, a surfing cousin, and terrorist attacks by the Spanish separatist group, ETA, feature.
I know nothing about the author but, as I read, I had a sense that he was someone who had had a really excellent holiday in Spain and then, while there, had some kind of Hemingway moment and decided to write a novel. And I also suspect that that’s when he learnt about all sorts of things such as the fact that paella isn’t traditionally served in Basque country; that cold breezes blow from the Atlantic even at the height of summer; and the distinction between pintxos and tapas.
The writing is torturous in some parts –
It was a small wooden fishing boat painted blue and white but mostly blue and loaded with nets, just a regular fishing boat. For what seemed like an eternity Coco and I made love on that boat, rocking it gently on the hushed sea while the clouds and seashells did their nautilus thing but dared not bother us.
There’s a breathless, hurried quality to the writing – some might decide it gives the novel pace, and a sense of chaos to match the vast amounts of alcohol and cocaine consumed by the characters. I found the amount of detail indiscriminate and distracting, and in some parts bordered on Creative Writing 101 (i.e. what can you see? Hear? Smell? Feel?).
The ultramarine blue of the Atlantic had been muddied into a cruel and callous grey, the rolling waves now sputtered and foamed like the flush of a urinal. The mountains to the east of the sea had lost their luminous green and became the shadows of beached whales shrouded and buried in fog, their last breath spent long ago.
I should have abandoned this book a third of the way in, however, it ticked off a few reading challenge spots, so seemed like a good way to start the reading year… I guess the only way is up, right?
1/5 Not for me. At all.