Monday, January 7, 2013

Off the Shelf 2013: John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins

Are you like me and have a substantial collection of books on the shelf that you apparently thought at the time of acquisition would be worth reading?  I find these books enter the shelves in two main ways:  offcasts from another - we booklovers are always afraid to look a bookhorse in the mouth and refuse the offering, or because they were cheapies at a charity shop or booksale and we thought "why not?". 

Well my collection of the aforementioned unloved books has reached critical mass and I have decided that 2013 is my year to whittle them down by having a good go at reading them, discerning those which are worth retaining and those which can journey to pastures new.

First off the shelf was John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins. I have to confess this was a little 'literary' for me.  I had a lot of trouble keeping track of what was going on!

What I was left in no uncertain terms about though is that this book is chilling and brutal.  Set in Burma in 1918 a group of English men, women and children set off to an island off Rangoon to proclaim it for King George.  In the course of their celebration a earthquake and tsunami besets them and only a small group of girls are left on the island.

This is where it gets rather "Lord of the Flies-ish".  First a whole set of rules are declared, only the eldest two girls set themselves above them.  Then a severely injured John Dollar (a member of the original party) is found washed up on the beach on another part of the island.  Initially all the girls take care of him but over time the oldest girls become controlling, keep the other girls away and start to brutalise him (in fact, I think they canabilise him in the end but as I have I was struggling with the writing and was not about to reread to double check).

At one stage of the book, other members of the original party (the fathers of the girls) are brought to the island by the natives and as far as I could gather ritualistically sacrificed by said natives.

In the end only the two eldest girls remain, and Monkey (a half Burmese girl who is treated as less than equal by the others).  Becoming aware of what they are up to, she flees into the jungle where she stumbles across a very confused Charlotte; the girls' teacher and John Dollar's lover.  Monkey leads Charlotte to where the eldest girls' and John Dollar were...but it is too late.

This book left me wondering if I was a literary dunce and wanting my time back.  Fortunately, a quick google revealed I was not alone in my confusion!    So, all in all this book is definitely on the discard pile!

You can read the original New York Times review here.

One down.....many more to go.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness - that does sound both bewildering and disturbing. Thanks for the warning! We, too, have a lot of unread books on the shelf and are trying not to buy new books until the current ones have had a viewing. "Trying" being the operative word here...