Buy Me Love – Greg Brook (Tolcarne Press, $27.99)
Reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
What would happen if, in a small South Island village, each resident inherited $4 million? It sounds like a card drawn from a philosophical discussion game, ripe for robust conversation. It's also the premise of this novel.
Mark travels from Auckland to see his parents for a few days. His marriage is rocky and he needs a bit of space. Not one to pay much attention to family matters, he doesn't realise that his parents are going to be away. His first encounter with local law enforcement is when he tries to break into his old family home.
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Mark catches up with his old mate Andy, now a vicar, while home in Bridgetown. It turns out that Angela is also back in town - she's the girl they both still carry a torch for. Meanwhile, an elderly American watches the town's comings and goings closely from his retreat on the hill.
We meet many villagers in the first few chapters, each with their own set of everyday issues — money problems, relationships issues, rabbit infestations. When each of them receives an invitation to a meeting, and then inherits a fortune from the benefactor on the hill, the intrigue ramps up several notches.
Buy Me Love is written with wry humour, its characters perfect caricatures of the personalities in any small community. The money corrupts the corruptible, it enables long-harboured dreams that turn to nightmares, it tips the mentally fragile and the frustrated over the edge. In some ways the village comes together to celebrate and there are moments of community togetherness, but there are also flashes of darkness where we see just how easily mob mentality could take over.
This novel is all the more effective for being set in a recognisable landscape — we know these people, we identify with at least one of them. A single act of generosity, borne from good intentions, has irrevocable consequences. There are some serious moral and ethical discussions to be had around this plot if you want to dig deep. If you don't want to overthink it, it's a really funny, entertaining, original situational comedy that you're bound to want to lend to someone so you can talk about it.