I’ve heard a lot about Tony Parsons, and always meant to read one of his books. I spotted this while shopping recently and thought I’d give it a try!
One young family goes in search of their dreams.
The Finn family – Tom, Tess and twins Rory and Keeva – leave broken Britain in search of a better life. Their destination is Hat Nai Yang beach, stretched along the south coast of Phuket, Thailand: an island paradise where the children swim with elephants, the gibbons sing love songs in the rainforest, the sea is like turquiose glass and a young family is free to grow.
But paradise has a heart of darkness and disasters made by man and nature conspire to shatter the tropical idyll – and threaten to tear their family apart.
In a time of political tension and growing dissatisfaction with the state of Britain, it’s very easy for the reader to sympathise with Tom and his family for wishing to escape a country that they feel let down by and find “paradise” elsewhere. But that’s exactly the problem, and the main theme that runs throughout this book.
For while the detailed and effective writing technique of Tony Parsons offers a stark contrast between the apparent ‘broken’ Britain and the stunning landscape of Thailand, it also highlights the unwelcome truth: nowhere is perfect. Not even the beautiful island of Phuket. You leave a country with one set of problems behind, but you can never go anywhere without encountering another. It’s a case of choosing between the lesser of two evils, a choice that will eventually come to Tom and his family.
Tom is a likeable character: hard-working, honest, decent, and loving, his actions are driven by a desire to do the best for his family. His drive to do what’s right for them and protect them is apparent in everything he does:
…somebody was howling with fear and rage and after a numb second, I realised that it was me.
But it was all right.
Because they were only fighting for all that stuff they had piled up in the back garden, while I was fighting for the woman and the two children upstairs.
Tess is a typical (and perhaps for this reason, a little unoriginal) loyal and head-strong woman who shows unwavering love, support and understanding towards everyone in her life. Again, likeable and relatable. After a huge natural disaster threatens the lives of many people on the island, she spends her days on the beach giving out free bottles of water to passers-by, and continues to do this despite having to sit for hours in the boiling sun. Keeva, their daughter, is a sweet girl who understandably misses her friends and life back home, but soon settles in to her new life. Perhaps it is only Rory, Keeva’s twin brother, who really stands out as a character.
Rory is not instantly likeable, but I did feel drawn to him. He is complicated, and flawed. He cries often and easily, and is much weaker emotionally than his sister. He has an innate love and understanding for all animals, and is incredibly bright for his age. He is not a perfect character, but for this reason, he is far more interesting. Everything is very black and white for him; he is still at that stage in life where there are no moral grey areas.
‘That bad boy,’ he said. ‘He’s so bad. He’ll get punished for being so bad.’
‘Maybe he’s not really bad,’ Tess said. ‘Maybe he’s just trying to feed his family.’
‘They get it in the end,’ said Rory.
I think at first, the book works to portray the concept of moving from Britain to Thailand in much the same, simplistic, right-and-wrong manner. Britain is bad, grey, tainted. Britain has let the family down. Thailand is gorgeous and sunny, a land of freedom and hope and a simpler, more holistic way of life.
‘This was a great country,’ I said. ‘Look at it now. The crime, the grime. The lack of respect. The lack of fear. The wicked walk free and the innocent suffer. Defend your home, protect your family – the most natural things in the world – and they treat you like a villain.’
And I felt that for all the similarities that Farren saw between the British and the Thais, they had things that we did not. They were better at showing love to each other.
As we move further into the book, however, we begin to see how life on the island affects the residents and perhaps, more importantly, how the residents affect the island. Prostitution is rife in Phuket. Businessmen take advantage of young women in bars and night life is far from pure. Of course in this book you get your stock bad characters such as Farren, the man who persuades Tom to move out to Thailand and routinely exploits working and residential laws in order to line his own pockets. However, there are also characters like Jesse, a man who works for Farren but slowly realises the error of his ways and behaviour. He rescues a gibbon which has been captured and forced to perform in bars, often being mistreated and maimed. This begins to open his eyes to the evil and corruption that takes place on the island – which is every bit as evil as anything that they’ve encountered in Britain.
‘I keep thinking that some lightning bolt is going to strike us,’ Jesse said. ‘To punish us for the way we live here. For the lies we tell. For the rules we break. For the things we do.’
The book is rich in interesting characters, far more than I have time to sit to discuss in detail. Each play their own part in shaping the Finn family’s new lives and surroundings. However, it is ultimately down to the Finn family to evaluate their new home and how their lives were before, and find the right place in which they can live happily. I won’t give away how the book ends. That’s for you to find out yourselves.
I definitely enjoyed the book, it was well-written, engaging, and had some good themes. Worth a shot and a fun, thoughtful, emotional read. However, I must admit that, especially compared to what I’ve read recently, it was a little bit forgettable in terms of plot. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and I struggled a little remembering the story whilst writing up this review (good job I take notes while reading!) I guess it just didn’t get me in the gut like some of the others.
It’s a good book, but not outstanding in my opinion. However, it may well be in yours!
Have you read the book? Please discuss with me in the comments below!