Map of Blue Book Balloon

28 October 2018

Blogtour review - The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

The Golden Orphans
Gary Raymond
Parthian Books, 30 June 2018
PB, 155pp

Many thanks to Emma for inviting me to take part in the tour for this intriguing book.

Many years ago (the early 70s), when I was very young, my parents went off for a holiday in Cyprus. This was before the Turkish invasion of 1974, but not long before - they came back reporting hearing gunfire out in the countryside. It was close enough to the events that I can still remember my mother reacting to the news: "that's where we were!"

Forty years on, all that seems very remote - to me sitting here in England. But the reality is a divided island, displaced people and abandoned towns and even cities - alongside the hedonistic tourist trade.

Raymond embraces both these contradictory strands in his story of a painter summoned to the island for the funeral of his former mentor, Francis Benthem. In an opening scene reminiscent of Harry Lime's funeral in the The Third Many, Benthem is laid to rest with minimum ceremony, the only other attendees being a Russian businessman and his family.

Gary Raymond
The Graham Greene vibe in the book - appropriate for a divided community plagued by "grifters, gangsters and wide-boys" - is then skilfully  intercut with something I found reminiscent of the games with reality in John Fowles' The Magus, as our unnamed (I don't think he is ever identified) artist is drawn into the pulsing nightlife and confronts the nature and history of the island. Commissioned to - what exactly? - by Prostakov, the Russian who buried Benthem, our protagonist soon finds himself out of his depth.

There is a great deal going on in this book, though it's perhaps only apparent in hindsight just how much. On top of the divisions on Cyprus and their impact - such as the presence of those "Golden Orphans" - there are overtones of people-smuggling, organised crime and violence. But it's hard to pick out who the angles are - if anyone is? - until the dramatic climax.

If then. I still wasn't sure at the end what all the factions were that had been in play - which is probably realistic given the history and nature of the island itself - but what is clearer is the impact on the narrator who seems to be at a crossroads in his life and relationships. As much as the drink and drug wrecked young people in the clubs of Napa, he seems to have come to Cyprus to find a place apart from his life. Offered, perhaps, an escape he doesn't seem able to accept that (unlike Benthem). In the end I felt this narrator to be the most intriguing mystery of all (we get hints - such as his ability to "...embalm myself in morally complicated environments...") and one who isn't resolved, leaving the reader to assess what will happen next.

Raymond's writing is sharp - while this is s short book without a lot of time to develop his characters (apart from that central enigma of a painter) he repeatedly skewers a mood or setting ("there is nothing more accurate than silence") never more so than when describing the abandoned city of Famagusta, left as on one afternoon in 1974, the city my parents told me about when they returned from their holiday/

A fascinating novel about a fascinating place, with much more in it than the apparently short length would suggest.

You can buy the book at your local independent bookshop (including via Hive (UK)) or from Amazon UKAmazon USWaterstonesBook Depository, for NOOK or for Kobo. And probably other places besides.

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