Mysterious visitors to an isolated British seaside resort bring on a backlash of violence.
Tree (Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside, 2011, etc.) has created a witty, frightening book lancing British arrogance, racism and smugness. Told in the voices of several characters, including the racist, anti-Semitic Dr. Whitebone; his 14-year-old daughter, Lucy; and her horny 12-year-old friend, whom she calls the Boy Who Shall Be Nameless, or BWSBN, the novel recounts a series of strange events and the muddled, misguided and violent reactions they precipitate. On vacation in Coldwater Bay on the Isle of Wight, Dr. Whitebone, his family and young guests soon find entrance to and egress from the village blocked and the phone lines cut. The doctor enlists the help of a local police officer and singles out the village’s lone black resident and a family of rich Arabs for secret torture. Eventually, a group of Africans emerges from the village’s sea caves to explain how and why they’ve sealed off Coldwater Bay. They’re a kind of expeditionary force responding to centuries of European colonization and brutalization of their continent. They’ve come in peace and make the village a kind of Club Med. Trying to be a hero to Lucy, however, the BWSBN escapes and alerts the authorities, then rides along in a helicopter as British jet fighters secretly bomb the Africans as they’re peacefully leaving for France in a trawler. Years later, more sordid details emerge. BWSBN, now 21, alcoholic and impotent, runs into Lucy in London and gets the full scoop: the torture and death of the black man, the beating death of the rich Arab patriarch—both innocent—and the trial and acquittal of Dr. Whitebone for the black man’s death. BWSBN is horrified, but the one-time love of his life has smugly decided, like her compatriots in a broader context, that it’s all for the best: “They’re different from us….They had no business being here.” Though Tree moved from England to Spain and began writing in Catalan after suffering from writer’s block in his native tongue, this novel proves his facility with English. His prose sparkles with razor’s-edge wit reminiscent of the great British satirists, though in a gentler way and with a core of disillusion and dismay.
A finely written, disturbingly pointed indictment of British colonialism and racism and that fester in an insular smugness “where life is indeed an island…bristling with complacency.”