Book Review: Archipelago

By David Hill

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Archipelago by Monique Roffey
Simon & Schuster $37

Book cover of Archipelago. Photo / Supplied
Book cover of Archipelago. Photo / Supplied

One year-plus after floodwaters wrecked his Trinidad home, taking away away his son and wife, Gavin Weald remains tormented by his losses and lethargy. As the rains and his little girl's nightmares return, he takes Suzy the bull terrier and Ocean the six-year-old daughter, and sets out to confront his demons on ... the ocean.

At first, he means only to escape for a few days on 28-foot sloop Romany down the coast of Venezuela. But soon he's aiming for the Galapagos, where he sailed before his life and belly turned dull and heavy, and he became "a half-himself", physically and mentally on the rim of disintegration.

The voyage that results is drenched in local colour(s). Tankers, seabirds and cetaceans pass by. So does a big package of cocaine. Dad and daughter and occasionally dog go snorkelling, see wonders, meet people who say things like, "'protected' means protecting nature from man'."

Yep, Roffey - born in Trinidad, based in London - wears her environmental heart on her life-vest, and good on her, even if it does lead to dialogue like press releases.

Climate change deniers will pop their buttons at this novel.

Every port of call is itemised. The author would make a seriously cool writer of alternative travel brochures. There's Curacao, "where rich people can hide together"; Aruba, with its iguanas and Taco Bell. Cartagena, all comfortable and complacence; the traffic jams of the Panama Canal; the Galapagos, where seals lollop after passing bicycles.

There's also the obligatory storm, in which pasts are revealed and truths realised. Gav meets Phoebe with the guitar and tattooed arms, who reminds him of a dolphin (this is a good thing). We sail towards a reconciliation backed by soaring violins.

It's an affectionate book. Roffey worships whales, tortoises, even the odd barracuda. She likes quite a few people, too: Ocean is cute without being too cloying, and the second-rate Gavin, struggling out of grief towards acceptance, makes a vulnerable, credible protagonist.

It's not a subtle book, and doesn't pretend to be. Emotions are heaved around in bucketfuls. Natural splendours are technicolour with tinsel trimmings. Orchestras play during the scary and sentimental bits.

Movie audiences - there's bound to be a movie - will lap it up. It'll pluck at heart-strings, touch tear-ducts, possibly clog arteries. I galloped through it with a smile, plus just the odd snort and snigger.

David Hill is a Taranaki writer.

- NZ Herald

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