Review published on February 11, 2014.Reviewed by Stephen Joyce
Nudge Reviewer Rating:
Harry Christmas has a world of troubles: grief, debt, gout, red trousers. And quite reasonable he concludes there are only two places where a man with scarlet trousers on backwards can still maintain his dignity – a professional golf course and Venezuela.
Jasper Gibson’s novel begins with Christmas storming drunk out of the airport in Caracas with “a wallet full of stolen money and the dried-up brain of a long-haul drinker.” If comic novels are anchored in great characters, then Harry Christmas roars off the opening pages like a drunkenly aggressive but rather bewildered bull wondering where all the nice cows have gone and who that fool with the red cape is.
The brief early chapters show us Christmas at his best, tormenting the people we love to hate: “Security always infuriated Christmas. Why should he have to prove he existed, the devil take them? He was real. The state on the other hand was pure construct. It should have to prove its existence to him.” Fellow British tourists are skewered as Christmas fights against ‘The Rot’, the ever-growing tide of bullshit that swamps the world:
“And what is your profession, young lady?”
“I’m a sports therapist.”
“And what’s this then?” laughed Christmas. He had two inches of her flab between thumb and finger. “Eh? What the devil is all this?”
Like an aging Withnail, Christmas charges about getting into drunken scrapes. After a night with local beauty Lola he reflects that she “was obviously astounded by his performance” when he’d been too drunk to get his clothes off. With magnificent self-regard, Christmas fails to notice her cynical disappointment the morning after:
“How do I look?”
“You look old.”
“Everyone looks older in the morning.”
“Especially old people,” she said, stubbing her cigarette out with force.
The plot can feel a little episodic but is tied together by the pursuit of Christmas by would-be agent of vengeance William Slade, who has pursued him to Venezuela. Slade is originally a figure of fun; he imagines himself a hard man and fantasises about what he would have done to the three Venezuelans who mug him had they not beaten him up with their superior strength and numbers. But as the novel continues his threat becomes more sinister.
The humour fades as we learn more about Christmas’ past, his dead wife, and the reasons why he is in Venezuela with stolen money. Like A Confederacy of Dunces, the reader comes to understand that the comedy overlies a fundamental bleakness, but unlike John Kennedy Toole’s masterpiece A Bright Moon for Fools has difficulty managing the fine line between humour and tragedy.
Nevertheless, the force of the main character manages to hold everything together and one can only admire the weary stubbornness – “Up on two legs, man!” – with which he greets each fresh disaster. A Bright Moon for Fools marks a witty new voice, one as distinctive as a pair of red trousers, in the all-too rare genre of comic fiction.
The Visitors, by Rebecca Mascull