El Gordo, the dreaming schemer of sleepy hollow
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