Friday, 29 August 2014

Paper Towns (and upselling at the checkout)

The newsagent slash bookshop in the Virgin terminal at Sydney Airport is not the best place to search for unique or interesting literature, unless your idea of a good read is one of the dozen or so rants by bellicose revhead Jeremy Clarkson, or the latest Lee Child (not that I’m opposed to witnessing Jack Reacher cut a swathe through backwoods near-do-wells, but one viewing every couple of years is ample).

Tucked away in the back corner behind the U-shaped pillows and compression socks, I found Paper Towns, one of John Green’s earlier books. I’d enjoyed The Faults in Our Stars (see below), so I thought I’d give it a go.

When I went to pay, the assistant asked if I wanted a pack of playing cards. I didn’t really, but I thought if she was giving them away I might as well take them. But no, she wasn’t giving them away, at which point I realised I really didn’t want them. What about a torch, she asked. Was the flight likely to ditch Lost-like into the Pacific, and I’d need to fossick for nocturnal prey? No. They were just on the counter and she has to ask. Before she went through any more ways I could add five dollars to the price of the book, I paid and slipped away.

At first I was a bit disappointed as Paper Towns is not as good as The Faults in Our Stars – the characters are flatter, the voice weaker, the dialogue less convincing and the structure clunky. But really, I should have know it was likely to be weaker before I started.

Even so, it didn’t take long before I was drawn into it. It becomes interesting when protagonist Q is taken on a vengeance fuelled night-long ride by the wildly desirable but enigmatic Margo Roth Spiegelman, the unrequited love of his young life. Then she disappears, and the quest is on to find her before she does what Q dreads she is planning – to kill herself.

It briefly made me think of Brick, the shoestring noir film by Rian Johnson in which the almost grown-up Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a teen version of a hard boiled PI searching for the killer of his ex-girlfriend. If briefly made me think of that; but Paper Towns never reaches Brick’s heights.

Nonetheless, the characters grow as the novel progresses and there are a few interesting ideas, especially the concept of paper towns itself. Having worked in the same office as map makers at one time, I was already aware of the fake streets they put into their maps as a copyrighting trick – proof the work is theirs in case someone copies it. Paper towns are fake towns that do the same thing.

They also work as a metaphor for towns devoid of real soul, such as Orlando – at least according to Margo Roth Spiegelman.

It was fitting then that I read this book as I flew into the Gold Coast, a town which seems to possess only a paper-thin soul, if any at all.

(Harper Collins)

The glorious Gold Coast
The glorious Gold Coast

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