El Gordo, the dream­ing schemer of sleepy hol­low

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Christopher Bantick

RThe cen­tral char­ac­ter in Usher’s book, El Gordo (the Fat One) brings to mind not so much Don Camillo, but the bane of his life, Pep­pone the Com­mu­nist. Both El Gordo and Pep­pone are dream­ers and both pro­vide a strong nar­ra­tive voice.

But there the sim­i­lar­ity stops. En­dear­ing as El Gordo is, his char­ac­ter is re­vealed at such a pace that some readers may find their pa­tience tested. The novel, while ap­peal­ing and of­ten amus­ing, is over­long and cry­ing out for a tough edit. It is ironic that El Gordo, in quot­ing ‘‘ Mr Thoreau’’, says: ‘‘ Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.’’ EADING this novel re­minded me of Giovanni Guareschi’s The Lit­tle World of Don Camillo. Ad­vice Usher should have heeded.

Usher feels duty bound to en­sure that his au­di­ence un­der­stands the back­story of Higot, the Span­ish-speak­ing vil­lage in an un­named coun­try, we as­sume ei­ther in South Amer­ica or on the Mediter­ranean, and El Gordo. The novel’s nar­ra­tive move­ment, pre­sum­ably to re­flect the las­si­tude brought about by Higot’s hot cli­mate, is pedes­trian at best.

The plot cen­tres on how Higot is go­ing to deal with an eco­nomic im­per­a­tive. This to­bacco-pro­duc­ing vil­lage has fallen on hard times. Higot’s young peo­ple are head­ing to the cities. The an­swer is tourism. But Higot is not a must-see des­ti­na­tion. With­out nat­u­ral beauty, land­marks or much else, El Gordo and a com­mit­tee of like-minded wheel­ers and deal­ers con­fect a hoax.

El Gordo says that ‘‘ peo­ple are the best star­ers in the world’’, so he gives them some­thing to look at. Higot folk go to sleep, col­lec­tively. This cre­ates a sen­sa­tion. It is writ­ten up in the pres­ti­gious Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal and tourists come

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