Orient by Christopher Bollen. A review by John Cook.

Orient

Orient by Christopher Bollen

I would recommend this for future group reading but the BCC library has only 5 copies only and it is quite a long read – probably a recommendation for personal reading only.

The novel has been described as Donna Tartt meets ‘The Great Gatsby’. I would have to add Midsomer Murders. The Tartt reference is to the snappy writing with lots of colourful phrasing and witty arch, almost biting, just mots. I found this was what saved a rather long (600 pages) thriller yarn however much midsomer mayhem occurred (and there is plenty of it). The Great Gatsby reference is to the location which is key.

Orient is an old town at the far North Western edge of Long Island looking across the sound to Connecticut. It is the locale for a situation familiar to many in our home environment – an older, scenic location that offers a refuge from the frantic urban existence – a location that attracts artists especially those that want to include their fellows – and a location that begins to attract those who collect their art and want greater and greater exclusivity and higher land prices.

The scene is set for localised internal division, jealousies and even hatreds. Into this apparent ideal location is injected a gay 19yr old runaway (West Coast to New York) who has seen all to much for his young years and has been offered work cleaning out for a successful NY architect who was born at Orient, made good and now wants to return to his patrimony.

To say the least, things go wrong quite spectacularly. There is an extensive cast of characters representing all interests including at least one murderer. The bodies drop, suspicions emerge and the reader is in for a long and confusing ride – enjoy.

One key element relates to the authors intimacy with the New York literary and art scene. He clearly knows a lot about the art world and the dubious quality of what is presented and how. The read is worth it if only as a cautionary tale for those considering invested their hard earned in contemporary art.

I include a couple of extracts that I hope illustrate two of the moments when I smiled at the aptness of what I had read and re-read in order to better appreciate.

Two of the characters stop off at a nearby motel which has been host to many local illicit liaisons…

The Seaview had seemed like some sort of key to the deaths, but as Beth and Mills stood there in its pebbled parking lot, it looked more like a giant pink dead bolt. Perhaps they’d both just needed an excuse to stretch their legs somewhere inland where no one would recognize them. He followed Beth through the swinging door. A sign hung on the window: CHECK IN ANYTIME. CHECK OUT SAME.

Animal prints were supposed to be sexy, but the accumulation of patterns at the Seaview’s welcome desk/piano bar/restaurant lounge spoke a language of camouflaged despair. Instead of pheromones, Lysol and gin oozed from the darkened interior. The carpet was zebra striped, the velvet wallpaper leopard spotted, the eight stools at the bar a mangy jaguar, which no drinker occupied, and the counter’s gray leather trim had the cracked epidermis of a rhinoceros. Peacock feathers in golden vases fluttered what air they could. A short, bald man in a tuxedo jacket played at the baby grand, winking first to them and then to his fishbowl tip jar, Sail away, sail away, sail away, he Enya-ed. Beth glanced at Mills, eyes warning Do not laugh. He was one kitschy cue away from misbehaving. How could anyone who snuck off here take their affairs seriously? But the piano player switched to Elton John midsong – Oh Ohhh, change is gonna do me good – and Mills felt himself betraying his first impressions. He liked the Seaview and its impeccable tastes.’

One character is a Romanian artist who has escaped his birthplace via its pavilion at the Venice Biennial and a convenient love affair. He initially scrabbles a living in New York taking up the tried and tested vocation of a barista.

Gavril learned how to make all the drinks he’d never sampled in Venice: latte, espresso, macchiato, decaf iced ristretto with a dollop of whipped cream.’

Gulp!

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