Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beach Read: The Truth, by Michael Palin

It's August - time to read something light. At my favorite Venice, California bookstore, Small World Books, I picked up Michael Palin's 2012 novel The Truth.

In brief, it's the story of Keith Mabbut, middle-aged British pen-for-hire and frustrated novelist. He is offered a shocking amount of money to write a biography of Hamish Melville, an elusive environmental crusader who pops up in the world's hot spots to mobilize indigenous peoples to resist the destruction of their homelands by resource-greedy corporations. Mabbut has to find Melville, gain his trust, and glean his story on a short deadline.

But why is Urgent Books offering him so much money, and why is its CEO such a creep? Meanwhile, Mabbut's wife, separated from him for a year or two, wants to marry her new lover, his twenty-something daughter is in love with an Iranian refugee, and his slightly-younger son won't speak to him. And his historical-recreation "not science fiction" novel languishes while he tracks Melville to India. In the process of pursuing this story, he's surprised by his own environmental activism reawakening after decades of slumber.

The book is more serious than I'd expected of a Python, but it's a decently written page-turner. And it's aptly named: variants of Truth shimmer in every chapter: what people live and die for, what they will corrupt those around them for, the mundane truths of how to treat people, and that humans are not really trustworthy. Mabbut ultimately has to decide what his truth is, and to speak it - just as everyone he encounters must voice their own version.

One can do worse for beach reading - go find a copy!