Before you turn away, this review isn’t on a prayer book. It’s a fictional novel by the US journalist Joan Didion, someone who I’ve suddenly become a fan of. More about why in a moment.
The book is set, it seems, in the 1980s when three Central American nations were at civil war. The country’s fictional name is Boca Grande, although it kept me guessing about which real nation Didion based it on. One of the Northern Triangle countries or Nicaragua, I suspect. It is narrated from the perspective of Grace, a North American living in the country in the run up to a conflict and is married into a powerful family. She looks back to her run ins with another North American named Charlotte Douglas, a mysterious and elusive character who gets embroiled into the conflict, but I will stop writing about her now so not to leave any spoilers.
I must admit. I judged the book by the cover somewhat and assumed it would be more about Central America’s culture, rather than conflict. I originally bought it because, all things considered, I live in the region and I enjoy writing about it. It’s always useful to read other depictions especially top quality journalists like Didion, to inspire or prompt writing, like in all other arts. I hadn’t really heard much of Joan Didion before, and through this book I seem to have found her by mistake. I now feel I’ve been missing out.
I really loved the style of writing. Poetic and a wonderful narrative of broken thoughts, due to the elderly age of the character and stresses on mental health brought by war. I thought this helped unravel the plot seductively at times. However, it slowed the plot down to sometimes tedious levels. It left me both entralled and frustrated.
It depicts Central America well to an extent, especially those in power. I sensed there were a few Juan Orlandos, Mel Zelayas and Tigre Bonillas tucked in there, especially when writing about power hungry politicians and military personnel, but in the 1980s. How close it was to reality is anyone’s guess. Suffice to say, I don’t hang out with such folk. Are there any links to modern day Honduras? Going by the last two months, certainly; especially with military repression and US influence.
On the whole, I enjoyed the book and I would like to read more of Joan Didion. A fascinating writer, a wonderful flowing style that I’ve taken quite a few pointers.
I give the book 4 out of 5 stars. Just because I felt the rhythm got a little slow on occasions. Otherwise, great work.