In writer-actor Brandt’s agreeably oddball first novel, a career underachiever explores the comparative unreality of the movies and real life.
The whole thing is narrated by failed actor-film producer émigré Frederick Case. At 42, Case, a freelance reader of scripts for a London production company, is supported primarily by his rich parents back home in New Zealand. Furthermore, he’s overweight, plagued with “moderate” hypertension, and has lost his actress wife, Sophie, following an argument over her right to perform an onscreen oral sex scene with overendowed matinee idol hunk Matt Chalmers. And that’s just the set-up. Brandt careens engagingly through Frederick’s awkward pursuit of self-esteem as he continues to strike out career-wise, gives a talk to star-struck prisoners, gets stuck with an inmate’s lurid screenplay aimed at saving the world from sin, and—abetted by genial young hooker Melissa—plots to regain Sophie’s affections (“I owe it to her and to me and to the narrative integrity of both our lives,” he reasons). Things soon move to the volcanic island of Makulalanana, in the South Pacific, where movie mogul Charles Menard is celebrating his 40th birthday with several dozen intimate friends, including Frederick, Melissa (hired to pose as his girlfriend), Matt, and a hugely pregnant Sophie. Various misadventures with affable Makulalanananders, importunate drunks, sea snakes and undersea creatures, and with a guilt-ridden Matt illogically ensue. Frederick somehow survives it all, ending up back “home” in Auckland, reconciled to options that seem to have chosen him, though perhaps matured at last (“You learn to accept these things. That’s what being forty is all about”). He’s a little like J.P. Donleavy’s immortal Ginger Man: a sardonic Wild Thing who learns he isn’t so unconventional after all.
A charmer. Let’s hope they make a movie of it.