Filmmakers, industrialists, and CIA agents converge in Honduras in this madcap intellectual thriller.
The plot of the fourth novel by Beauman (Glow, 2015, etc.) is as overgrown as its setting, but it mainly concerns Jervis, a filmmaker determined to shoot a movie at an ancient temple in the Honduran jungle in 1938; Elias, who’s been charged by his conglomerate-owning father to disassemble said temple and ship it back to America; and the standoff that ensues when representatives of both sides show up. A nearly 20-year standoff, that is, during which time the few dozen arrivals receive no input from the outside world; the predicament gives the filmmakers enough time to figure out how to make home-brew celluloid film despite being way off their shooting schedule, and because everybody misses all of World War II, nobody blinks when a shelter-seeking ex-Nazi soldier arrives proclaiming the victory of the “German-American alliance.” Adding another layer of strangeness is the novel’s main narrator, Zonulet, a former journalist–turned–CIA agent writing a history of inter-agency skulduggery involving the support of the fruit industry, the libertine religious philosophy of the natives, and a hallucinatory fungus discovered onsite. That’s not counting the drama involving two of Zonulet’s former work colleagues, various romances, and surprise revelations about Jervis’ and Elias’ pasts. What to make of all this? The title of the ill-fated film (Hearts in Darkness) suggests an allegorical update on Conrad, but introspection and displacement aren’t big themes here; Jervis proffers a theory about effective, simple storytelling, but Beauman seems almost comically determined to flout it, lacquering scenes in ornate, often wearying detail.
The overall effect is of a Paul Theroux novel on a bender: quirky, exotic, but stubbornly tangled.