Heliopolis by James Scudamore

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Heliopolis by James Scudamore

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ekaterina Rodyunina
Reviewed by Ekaterina Rodyunina
Summary: An interesting, but not outstanding book about the indentity crisis of a newly-rich, ex-favela young man. It takes itself too seriously at times and attempts to shock with a half-incest theme, but is still in essense another book about coping with uncertainty and lack of self-definition. The book might appeal to men in their late twenties - the level of indecisiveness and responsibility looks just about right, and it does broaden ones's horizons.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846551888

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It's a bright and shiny Sao Paolo morning, and Ludo Santos is happily waking up at the penthouse of his sister Melissa. As in, adoptive sister. As in, married adoptive sister. As in, married adoptive sister who cheats on her husband with him. Ouch.

Other than being a self-defined bed-hopper, Ludo - adopted son of the multi-rich owner of a supermarket chain, Ze, so rich that he only travels by helicopter - works for a high-profile marketing company, lives in a nice appartment and drinks way too much. That's about it, that's his life.

Rewind that a few years back and see Ludo as a kid: an ex-favela boy, who would have possibly become a gang member or died of hunger, had his mother not been taken in to work as a cook by Ze's wife. An act of charity... or not? Ludo instantly questions the stories of his childhood. Who was his father? Why did his mother not dicuss favela life with him? Why can he remember nothing but living on Ze's farm?

The duplicity of his situation makes Ludo a stranger in both worlds: he certainly does not fit in to fly-by-helicopter boy, but he surely does not belong to the favela anymore. The entire story is his quest for self-definition and purpose, be it through making friends with the cleaner who lives in a favela or be it getting his work colleague hammered in a very expensive restaurant. These are all the little steps Ludo has to make to find out who he is and - last but certainly not least - why he has this irresponsible lifelong infatuation by Melissa.

It sounds intriguing, and it reads without effort, but it does not leave a mark. The favela theme is so common these days - anyone remember the movie City of God? - that it fails to shock, if intended. The incestuous love theme has been explored numerous times as well. As for the striving to find your place and figuring out 'who you really are' - it has become an internationally acclaimed hobby these days. It is an ok book, but what is the moral of it, if there is one?

The style failed to impress as well: a very easy read, but it reads like a teenager diary: not only a sense of hormonal drama, but more like an overblown initial problem. To save the character time and trouble - life is not always overly cruel or overly kind, there are a few shades of grey, and self-resentment does not make you special, kid. Grow up.

Having said that, it still feels like the author has put in quite some personal effort and emotion. It is an honest book, it deals with issues that are eternally important. Perhaps it really tries too hard to impress, but it still is an interesting read. The character of Ludo is clearly carefully and craftily depicted, the situations he gets into are somewhat unusual, and albeit immature, he is charming and one cannot help but warm to him to a certain extent.

It seems to me that the book will appeal to men in their late twenties - the level of indecisiveness and responsibility looks just about right, and it does broaden ones's horizons.

Thanks for Harvill Secker for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you enjoyed that book, try another one about a disadvantaged boy struggling with alientation and himself - Asboville by Danny Rhodes.

Booklists.jpg Heliopolis by James Scudamore is in the Man Booker Prize 2009.
Buy Heliopolis by James Scudamore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Heliopolis by James Scudamore at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Heliopolis by James Scudamore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Heliopolis by James Scudamore at Amazon.com.


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