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One could almost get away with saying that this is a fictional autobiography of Oceane. Oceane has decided not to bother going out anymore. After all she is perfectly comfortable in her flat; she can buy everything she needs on the internet and if she wants to travel then she can pay Garba her flexible travel agent to bring parts of the world to her. This is one of the benefits of her wealth – that she can live in one flat and keep the other for the arrival of Finland or wherever. Other than this Oceane’s view of money is simple:
“Money doesn’t always have the clout it’s reputed to…try ordering a wedding cake in a fishmonger’s, even if you offer ten times the market rate…”
It all started (or finished, depending on your view) with the woman carrying a wedding cake. I mean, as Oceane herself thought:
“If you can’t trust a woman carrying a wedding-cake who can you?”
So when this woman, this stranger, this cake-carrier started kicking Oceane in the stomach for no apparent reason it seemed more than a tad irritating. That’s why Oceane stopped going out. Or at least one might say it was the icing on the cake. After that she didn’t bother again. Well you wouldn’t really would you?
So that’s the plot done with then. Mind you, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a novel just about this girl stuck alone in her flat. Oh no, the plot is extensive – it takes us from the strip clubs of Barcelona to the exotically named strip of land Chuuk in Micronesia. There are more than a couple of shotguns rammed down innocent and not-so-innocent gullets and some truly gymnastic fun with the enigmatic Juan. We don’t know much about Juan, but then who really needs to know more than this:
“…he was too good looking to be working anywhere. He should have been given a grant for being Juan.”
That’s all the information we girls need really isn’t it?
It’s when Oceane starts receiving letters from her ex that the action really takes off. He’s been dead for 10 years by then you see.
When I look back at myself reading this novel I can clearly see that the whole underpinning is a consideration of what real friendship is all about compared to the ambiguous and often limited relationships we have with the people around us. You see Oceane hasn’t always been alone in her flat – and her memory of friends will keep us praying that they come to call sometime soon.
There’s Richard who knows a drowning story for any social gathering and doesn’t like sunshine (“I prefer not to enjoy it. It won’t last.”) There’s Merv the barman who used to be a war correspondent, the wonderful Audley (owner of the Dun Waitin debt collection agency) of course we already know about the glorious Juan, and there’s the somewhat quirky Azra. (Quirky? Well here’s just one example: “Azra used to have a fear of melting butter…The prospect of butter achieving room temperature distressed her.” Do you see now?)
Amazingly to me it also ends on a remarkably positive note – an unusual conceit for Tibor Fischer who is more known in the school of searing wit than in the college of sentimental hope. Still, to get there we will take a voyage that is ferociously calculating, acidic and scalding, fast and most of all, fun.
In my opinion in novels you can only really TRULY achieve fun by sentence structure. Sure zany plot lines and bizarre characterisations can contribute to the overall wackiness but sharp one liners don’t half help, even in just one little room. So when Oceane goes travelling with Audley we aren’t told that there is a video conferencing link between them, we glean it from this little sentence: “Audley visibles.” When Roberto gets fed up with Audley not joining in with the merry-making (well he’s got one of those gullet-tickling shotgun problems again…) Roberto doesn’t drone on, no, no he just tells Audley to “Rejig your aplomb”. Marvellous eh?
Shall I be naff enough to mention that it’s a voyage of self discovery? Well of course it is, after a fashion. Oceane the irritable, the cynical, the sassy heroine of the hour (and her own flat) will come to a controlled self-realisation. Sure enough when I asked Tibor Fischer to sign my copy he wrote “Bon Voyage!” in a rather less than cryptic type way. Yet it also says something about the sheer bloody-minded randomness of the world, of fate or the lack of it and the meaninglessness of philosophy and dare I say religion.
Here’s my favourite chapter in full:
“Why is erasing desire seen as so important? If the subjugation of the self is the point of the self what’s the point in having a self? It’s like someone handing you a leaflet which says throw this leaflet away.”
Tibor Fischer is probably most famous for “Under The Frog” which was shortlisted for the Mann Booker award a few years ago, but I can also recommend “Don’t Read This Book If You’re Stupid” if short stories are more your thing. You know I like Tibor Fischer’s books so much that I was truly dreading reading “Voyage” – it was so thoroughly bound not to live up to my ludicrously high expectations of him.
But it did.
Go buy it from anywhere but try to avoid the preposterous cover price of £10.99 for this Chatto & Windus paperback. Really that does seem a lot. Still, boys will definitely think it’s worth it because it has got a rather rude picture of a woman in an unnerving relationship with a balcony rail on the front cover.