“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
I am currently helping to host a goodreads giveaway on behalf of my good friend and author N Caraway.
N Caraway was born in Cambridge in 1957 and studied at Cambridge University, where he read mediaeval and modern languages, specialising in Dostoevsky and Latin American literature. Before going to university he worked as a volunteer teacher in a rural school in Kenya, an experience which eventually set the course of his life. He has worked for a variety of development agencies mostly in Africa and Asia.
In 2002 he moved to Nairobi to work for the United Nations in South Sudan. This was during the last years of the conflict between government and rebel forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The UN operated a relief operation by air, using a network of small landing strips spread across a vast landscape without roads or electricity. This landscape provides the background for his first novel, The Humanitarian.
A lonely old man is living out the last days of his life in Brussels, a city that alternates between small-town non-entity and extreme surrealist quirkiness, symbolised by the famous statue of a small boy urinating. Increasingly confused by the effects of a heart attack, he tries to find meaning in one last rational act of kindness before he dies.
Set in the capital of a rapidly ageing Europe, the second novel by N Caraway is a tragicomic study of solitude and growing old that also provides a surprising new take on the theme of the classic Frank Capra movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
N Caraway’s second novel, The Manneken Pis is set in Brussels, and inspired by the grotesque pageantry of the Balloon Day parade. Caraway’s protagonist, Harold Cumberlidge, suffers a heart attack after having the ‘monstrous calamity’ of a balloon fashioned to resemble the urinating Manneken Pis collapse on top of him. The event causes Harold to take a closer look at life; he begins to question his significance and that of the Europe which surrounds him. Then, befriended by an unlikely pair of characters, one of whom introduces himself as Harold’s ‘Guardian Angel’ in a scene that inevitably harks back to James Stewart contemplating suicide in Capra’s film, Harold becomes increasingly unhinged, as he obsesses over his own mortality. By the end of the novel it is up to the reader to decide for themselves exactly who, or what, is real.
The Manneken Pis serves as an analysis of the lonely life of an ageing EU bureaucrat. Harold Cumberlidge is an interesting character; a strange mix of old-world charm and grumpy bastard, who the empathetic reader will find themselves warming to very quickly. The extent to which Caraway delves into the inner workings of Harold’s increasingly frazzled mind makes one feel that the thoughts and musings of the character may be at least partly based on the authors own life experiences.
Caraway’s descriptions of Brussels, of Harold’s mindset, and the characters which surround the story are intricate, developed and well rounded. He really has a talent for descriptive writing, which shines through to the very smallest detail. Every part of the book is told as if you are the eyes within Harold’s head, down to the horrifying image of the Manneken Pis looming down on Harold, causing the heart attack which sets the rest of the book in motion:
‘There was a blinding flash as the sun caught his unguarded eyes full on and then the monstrous calamity of a giant figure tumbling down towards him, grotesque in its nakedness, leering and obscene, a gigantic naked child, milk-chocolate brown as though fashioned from an enormous turd, a canine crotte from the sullied urban pavements galvinised into monstrous life, plunging headlong down to smother him…’
The effect of description in Caraway’s prose, down to the very smallest thought which flits through Harold’s mind, is such that by the end of the book you really feel as though you know Harold on a personal level.
The story is intricate, touching and incredibly thought provoking, and touches on several exceptionally deep subjects, the most notable of which is the recognition of one’s own mortality. Caraway’s second novel is equal parts sadness and humour, which will leave the reader with several questions hanging in their minds and a deep feeling of empathy towards their fellow man.
There are four copies of The Manneken Pis up for grabs, Goodreads users can enter the giveaway by clicking here. The giveaway will run until the 2nd March.
Caraway is also offering review copies of his first novel The Humanitarian, which was featured on Jade the Obscure last summer.
After decades of civil war a peace deal is in the offing for the ravaged land of South Sudan, where the United Nations and a plethora of non-government organisations have come together to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of displaced and homeless people scattered in camps and villages across the vast wilderness of swamps and scrubland, where rogue militias, cattle raiders and bandits roam. Richards is a UN official on his final mission, leading a small team to a remote region. For him it is not just the war which is ending, but the world he has come to inhabit. Detachment and isolation from all that is around him begin to take hold and memories of another life threaten to break through the thin walls he has built around himself. As he sinks deeper into inner darkness a chance meeting with a young priest seems to offer the hope of a way back to belief in humanity and meaning, but the road is rough.
To read the review click here.
There are another four copies of The Humanitarian available to lucky winners, Goodreads users can enter the giveaway by clicking here. This giveaway will also run until the 2nd March.