Book review: The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen

Author Christopher Bollen.
Alexei Hay

Author Christopher Bollen.

The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen, Scribner, $38 

The Eastern Mediterranean and the islands of the Aegean Sea have long been the mainstays of literary bestsellers. There is the blazing light, the blue, blue waters, gnarled olive trees, and the easily-pierced veneer of contemporary life laid over a more ancient world.

Christopher Bollen's The Destroyers is a novel which hopes to use this tradition. It would like to have the same sexual ambivalence as a Patricia Highsmith, reveal the intelligence of a Lawrence Durrell, and play the psychological games of a John Fowles. It also has ambitions to be a suspenseful thriller.

Ian Bledsoe, disinherited by his late father, escaping the emotional fallout and family complexities of the death, arrives on the island of Patmos. His childhood friend, Charlie, the son of a wealthy family, has a yacht-charter business and has offered Ian a refuge.

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It's a world of bright summer, sun-glasses, and drunkenness. Charlie has a complex personal life with Sonny, an ex-girlfriend and their child. Ian also re-encounters an ex-girlfriend of his own, Louise. It is as if they all have stepped back to an earlier moment in their lives.

However, there are hints of other entanglements. A bomb explodes outside a cafe where Charlie is due for a coffee. A sinister quasi-religious cult of "hippies" seems to hang around the periphery of every incident. Patmos is the island where St John had the revelations that make up the last book of the Bible, but mysteries only multiply in Bollen's novel, where it seems that bastardised tourism has replaced religion.

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Charlie's "business plans" are as mysterious as everything else. His circle of friends are often people who rely primarily on his largesse, like Miles, who also seems intent on seducing Sonny. Charlie's gay male cousin and his Polish boyfriend fight and make love. The Greek charter-boat employees have mysterious passions of their own.

Then Ian is asked to cover for Charlie for a few days to allow him to go to Turkey, but the subterfuge appears far more elaborate than necessary…

The Destroyers is not competition for Highsmith, Durrell, or Fowles. The novel has neither the density of writing or the intelligence. The reader, in fact, longs for them, to somehow crystallise the perceptions, incidents, and landscapes that seem to hang tantalisingly out of view.

Bollen's book is a heat-struck exploration of a group of international expatriates, sprawling over 483 pages, with a vivid incident every so often to startle the reader. It owes much to its predecessors. However, it can be forgiven its faults because of its value as entertainment, much as if it were a Greek holiday taken by the imagination.

 - Stuff

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