BOOK REIVEW / Bringing home the body: 'Desperadoes' - Joseph O'Connor: Flamingo, 14.99

THE SEARCH for someone or something irredeemably lost is one of the most compelling and resonant ideas in literature. Desperadoes by Joseph O'Connor takes up this theme of the quest and relocates it in blighted contemporary Nicaragua. A divorced Irish couple, Frank and Eleanor Little, meet up in Managua to bring home the body of their murdered son, Johnny. But the body in the mortuary is not his. Convinced that he's still alive, and encouraged by reports that he might be hiding in the north-east of the country, they set off to find him.

A wild, dreaming youth, Johnny originally fled to Nicaragua to escape a Dublin life of grim struggle and sadness. It emerges that he played in a rock band, Los Desperadoes, whose other members, rather improbably, agree to accompany Eleanor and Frank on their long journey.

But the introduction of the band, with their preposterous names and desperately unfunny eccentricities, is a mistake. Rather than providing the spark to light the novel's fuse, their presence all but extinguishes it. And what, in the shadow of war, could have been a powerful meditation on loss, obsession and personal disintegration, quickly degenerates into an unenchanting adventure story, with the usual mix of drug- smuggling, gun-running and easy sentimentality.

The book's real failings, however, are stylistic. The dialogue, which, curiously, has been praised for its fizzing diversity, in fact has a bland uniformity, and every character uses the same limited vocabulary. The novel has no internal borders. When Frank writes to his girlfriend in Ireland, or the grieving Eleanor apostrophizes her dead daughter, we are not moved by what they have to say. They all speak with the voice of the narrator; their language is O'Connor's language - flat, loose, utterly without presence.

Nicaragua, this ravaged yet radiant land, is not animated. The prose, with its journalistic flourishes, crumbles under the weight of ready-made formulation and cliche: people are 'as white as milk'; smoke rises in 'plumes'; minutes 'pass like hours'.

Too eager to describe all that he sees and hears, as a narrator O'Connor has not yet learned to discriminate. He has too much material; the novel is feverishly overburdened with plots. Perhaps he should remember what H G Wells once said of Joseph Conrad: 'He has still to learn the great half of his art, the art of leaving things unwritten.'

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk