Book Review: Water Music

Category: Book Reviews

Eeeeeeeeeeeee. This is my first read by T.C. Boyle and I had a great time although it took me two runs at it to get the whole thing down. I went into the bookstore with T.C. Boyle on my mind, having just listened to a podcast at NPR in which he talked about his newest book, The Women. It is a fictional account of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the women in his life. A friend of mine recommended Water Music, the foreign language section of Wittwer had it, I bought it.

What struck me the most about the story was that the characters never came to rest. Four hundred thirty-seven pages and they were running flat out in every direction – either away from the consequences of their actions or directly towards the logical thing to do, even though it was obvious they had no chance to escape the aforementioned serious consequences. The story moves at a break-neck pace, Ned Rise, Mungo Park, and especially poor Johnson pay for every quiet moment with a chapter full of trouble.

The old man, nestled beneath his bush, sleeps on. Deathly still. His mouth hangs open, the pink bud of his gums and palate an hors d’oevre for the huge green flies that hover round the putrefactive chicken. A column of ants has been using his foot as a highway, mosquitoes tatoo his cheeks and eyelids. Looking down at him so frail and motionless his bones in stark relief against the yellow muck, a terrible realization comes over the explorer. Old Eboe, last of the Jarrans, is dead.

Ah, but is he really dead, and what of that putrefactive chicken? What sort of a person comes up with this storyline? I jumped and squirmed. The language is not colorful, it is disgusting, stinky and delightful. Any author who makes a bushpig say: “snark snark” has a firm place on my Authors-To-Read-More-Of list.

From the back of the book:

The year is 1795: George III is dabbing the walls of Windsor Castle with spittle, Goya is deaf, De Quincey is a depraved prepubescent and young Ludwig van Beethoven is wowing them in Vienna with his second piano concerto. In London, Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, is drinking Strip-Me-Naked with Nan Punt and Sally Sebum at the Pig and Pox Tavern in Maiden Lane. And, far from his native Edinburgh, the explorer Mungo Park is stranded in the Sahara, a prisoner of the Moors of Ludamar.

Water Music is the rambunctious account of two men’s wild adventures through the gutters of London and the Scottish Highlands to their unlikely meeting in darkest Africa, as they search for the source of the Niger, a river no European has ever laid eyes upon.