BOOKS: FICTION; Hostage to Disney

BLACK NIGHT AT BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN by Glenn Patterson, Chatto pounds 13.99
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The Independent Culture
IT IS 1991 and on the EuroDisney building site in Marne-la-Vallee an American ex-employee called Sam has just taken two other employees hostage inside the newly-constructed Big Thunder Mountain. Sam, once a high flying "Imagineer" has gone mad and says things like "we are earth- spread spawn of mud-diggers and mud-shifters, mud-shapers and mud-bakers." His hostages are German Ilse, who works in the kitchens and can fry 50 eggs in 15 minutes, and a melancholic Belfast navvy called Raymond. As the seconds tick away and the negotiators and police move into place, the lives of Sam, Ilse and Raymond are revealed through a series of fractured flashbacks.

It soon appears that the three have something in common. They are all outsiders, at war with their pasts. Sam has had a hippy, anti-Vietnam, anti-materialistic upbringing yet has always been obsessed with Disney, a symbol of commercialism. Ilse grew up in the post-war rubble of Stuttgart but unlike her politically active peer-group she drifted into porn movies and only abandoned this in favour of kitchen work when she realised she was expected to have sex with a dog. Raymond's tale of divided loyalties in the heated politics of Belfast is reassuringly mundane - and convincing - by comparison. This is where things come to life, and you understand why Patterson won awards for his previous two novels Burning Your Own and Fat Lad, both of which are set in Belfast.

Here, Patterson seems to be trying to say too many things at the same time. He throws in reports from the then new war in the former Yugoslavia: does this reflect the characters' conflicts or is the destruction of a country being contrasted with the new world created out of the French countryside by Disney? Is the novel about American imperialism? What about the Parisian graffiti which shows Mickey Mouse shooting up, or the sequence when Mickey comes monstrously to life? This is schematic without being focused, or at least without being interestingly unfocused.

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