Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exceptional Read: The Adventures of Charlie Smithers by C.W. Lovatt

I define an Exceptional Read as a well written book that shakes me up, emotionally or mentally. It stops me in my tracks for some reason; challenges me to consider things that really - in my ordinary existence -  make no difference. An Exceptional Read challenges my thoughts, emotions, and spirit. I'm convinced, even if only for the span of the book, it should matter to Every Being in the Universe.  There are qualifiers to exceptional reads.  The label I apply depends on my mental engagement and my emotional response.  Your mileage may vary.

Note:  I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review (but no paper towels)
My Experience:  Beyond A+
Synopsis:    The time is the nineteenth century. The place, the Serengeti Plain, where one Charlie Smithers – faithful manservant to the arrogant bone-head, Lord Brampton (with five lines in Debrett, and a hopeless shot to boot) – becomes separated from his master during an unfortunate episode with an angry rhinoceros, thereby launching Charlie on an odyssey into Deepest Darkest Africa, and subsequently into the arms of the beautiful Loiyan…and that’s where the trouble really begins. 
Maasai warriors, xenophobic locals, or evil Arab slavers, the two forbidden lovers encounter everything that the unforgiving jungle can throw at them. 

If you ask me, it's daymn inconsiderate of C.W. Lovatt not to provide a roll of paper towels with his books in order that his humble readers might mop up the mess of tears from laughter *and* sorrow. And therefore, I can only give him five measly stars instead of the ten I actually see. Ack, I'm a snotty mess, I hope he's happy!

Having survived Balaclava, Charlie Smithers and his master, Lord Brampton, hie off to see the world. Arriving in Africa, they go on the hunt. His lordship hopes to break the family curse and actually shoot something without maiming himself in the process. Smithers just wants to serve and survive.

"It had been I who had been the first to see what no other white man had seen! It had been I who had acquired languages as alien to our own as would be that of the Man in the Moon to one of his bloody lordship's bloody fox hounds! It had been I who had first ventured out onto the African steppe, been chased by rhinos and crocodiles, survived falls from dizzying heights, and fought untold desperate battles with nothing more than a battered old rifle and two broken ankles...."

Charlie is saved from being crocodile nuncheon by Musa Ole Saitoti and *his* hunting party. And now Chief Musa would like Smithers to be God, just until Musa gets all of a rival's cattle. Stoned, in agony from the pain and faint tickles of lust for Loiyan, the young woman healing him, he agrees. Upon waking from feverish dreams, life goes from horror to hosanna in a trial that made me laugh myself off my chair, literally.

"I was so surprised I almost soiled my breeches. And if you'll recall, it had already been a trying day, so I should think that's saying a lot.... But, I suppose I'm something of a philosophical fellow when I can see there's nothing else for it."

After a showdown with the son of a competitor, Musa and Loiyan decide Charlie must flee before he is proven not a God or Demon. Finding himself on the back of The Angry One, accompanied by a crone, two of Musa's brothers, and Loiyan, he curses the time he's spent being carried around in god-like indolence. It's not easy being a demon on the run, that's for sure and certain; for of course the villainous upstart sends a war party after him. From here, the laughter is more strained, at times nervously forced to alleviate the intensity of the narrative.

Before he fully grasps the danger, they are a "tribe of one man and one woman, doomed to wander and hide ourselves away from those who would destroy us." But Charlie is inspired by Loiyan's indomitable spirit: "Lost we might be, but for the first time we were also free." But just as they embrace freedom, they're forced to confront the war party and fight for their survival. Barely making their escape in a stolen canoe the tribe of two, heads north; hopeful, though subdued. Stumbling over Arab slavers burning and raiding a village, Charlie is able to do nothing but observe the horror. Sickened and terrified for Loiyan, they resume their journey. "Anyway, so endeth my sermon. It can be a bloody awful world sometimes."

There is no way to synopsis the rest of the story without giving too many spoilers and thereby cheating the reader of laughter, surprise, shock, awe, fear, rage and yes, reaching for the roll of paper towels. I know this because I tried for three hours last night; finally falling into my bed resigned to failure. Mr. Lovatt's style of writing is, as I discovered by reading his second book before the first, as indomitable as the characters he creates. I'm torn between demanding my children read them both and the desire to shelter them just an hour or week longer. They're old enough - well most of them - but the thing about Mr. Lovatt's prose is once read, you cannot forget; do not want to forget.

His characters are so exactly drawn, so intrinsically real, that you look up and wonder where they are, what happened to the African jungle?! He is not afraid or ashamed to speak with the voice of a 19th century man, using the brisk honesty and hopeful arrogance of an empirical voice, but his insight is woven in from this century. There are many offenses and atrocities committed in this book, but no offense to the reader is willfully made. The heart of Charlie Smithers is never in doubt; you know he is a man of conscious and care. Despite his station in life, this is a man that uses every opportunity to reach beyond the hum drum thoughts expected of him. That Charlie carries those thoughts with composed dignity is the final, perfect, salute to his adventure.

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