I’m a huge fan of Tony Parsons however I wasn’t a huge fan of Tony-Parsons-goes-tropical in his ninth novel, Catching the Sun.
After a string of events in Britain, taxi driver Tom Finn takes his wife and children to live on the tropical island of Phuket, Thailand. Initially, it’s all the family dreamed of – a tropical paradise where they live simply, with the beach at their doorstep. But both man-made and natural disasters shatter their tropical idyll and the family are forced to reconsider their definition of ‘paradise’.
When I think about Parsons, I think London streets, complex relationships, men trying to do the right thing. To a certain extent, these themes are picked up in Catching the Sun however without the dirty concrete, rain and lagers, the story never quite convinced me.
It’s obvious that Parsons has spent time in Thailand – much of the detail is accurate, particularly in relation to the seedy beach bars and tourist scene –
“‘Oh hello, sexy man! Oh hello, my big, big honey! Oh, I want you happy happy! Oh, I want to take care of you! Oh, I want you so happy happy!” She had him in the bar-girl full nelson – one arm wrapped around the waist, the other snaking around his arm.”
But equally, a lot of the story feels like Parsons trying to prove his intimate knowledge of the place. It grated on me and some didn’t ring true (perhaps because I’ve been to Thailand?).
One thing that Parsons usually does well is put you in the middle of the emotional action. In Catching the Sun, you’re removed – a major plot point is presented retrospectively, and another key scene involves someone else (not Tom). As a result, you’re not invested in the main character and nor do you know him (which really jarred at the end).
There’s lots of food in this book – beautifully described seafood dishes, noodles and curries – and Parsons captures the essence of Thai flavours perfectly –
“And all at once I tasted garlic and lime juice and lemon grass, the sour and the sweet and the sharp, the salt and the sugar, the pungent tang and the searing heat. This was the food of the island. So many flavours pulling in opposite directions, but somehow you were aware of them all at once. And perhaps that was the island too.”
My favourite dish is Pad Thai.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and the Melburnian winter – the results for the day I finished this book (August 10): Belfast 13°-15°, Melbourne 8°-15°.