I few years ago a realization struck me. Why were the protagonists of the books I was reading invariably between the ages of 20 to 40 (give or take a few years at each end of the interval)? Publishing-wise it seemed like nothing interesting was happening to people outside this age bracket. Is this realistic? Does it matter? No wonder our society is obsessed with youth when fiction is aimed at certain age groups. After 40, am I simply seen as irrelevant? I’m sick and tired of reading about some 25-year-old that has the perfect career all tied up and is mature beyond his/her years (“Twilight” comes to mind). A novel with characters always in the right age group is for me a difficult sell. Is our society afraid to age and is that the reason why it clings to the same old stereotypes?
Here we have a 72-year old protagonist that made laugh out loud. That’s not a mean feat in my view of things.
Cotterill’s grasp on Lao’s time and place and culture is quite impressive. On top of that he was really creative with his characters, and his threads (there are several) are twisted and thrilling and deftly managed. The writing is hilariously funny, graphic while managing a wonderful pointedness. This pot-pourri mixed with the colour of the Laotian language and culture really makes it worth reading. Unfortunately that’s where the good stuff ends. The detours into supernaturalism didn’t ring true at all. Dead people appear to Siri in dreams and provide clues (Deus ex machina in my book). There's a long part of the novel in which Siri goes to a remote Hmong village and participates in a sort of exorcism, in which he personally battles forest demons… I think it’d have worked better if the plot device was reduced to a naturalistic explanation.
What (almost) saves the novel is Dr. Siri’s crusty, thumb-nosing personality. What a treat.