I picked up Ben Okri’s In Arcadia at a library book fair some years ago, attracted by the title, thinking mostly of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia which I had enjoyed very much. The book came to rest in the corner of the bookshelf reserved for travel reading, i.e. books I take with me on holiday and do not intend to come home with.
The blurb reads: Imagine a journey undertaken by discontented people to paradise. Imagine also that they’ve been brought together by a mysterious benefactor. Beginning and end unknown. In this novel about anger, meaning, folly, friendship and art, Ben Okri combines adventure and mystery to reveal serendipities of the heart and mind. In Arcadia is one of his most intriguing and provocative novels.
What I was quite annoyed by was the lack of an actual story – it is premised on media personnel making a documentary about a paradise on earth (or, given that I was reading it in China, perhaps a Shangri-La), but that gets interjected by reflective ‘chapters’ where the protagonist, Lao, drifts off into meditation and contemplation. While that contained some lovely passages on travel (and these I intend to share with you in upcoming posts), making the book highly appropriate as holiday reading while waiting at the airport, on the train, long bus journeys etc., it was highly distracting too. I would have much preferred those pieces to be expanded into essays, and the story fully developed. The whole book felt disappointingly neither here nor there, and instead it was Terry Pratchett who entertained me for the rest of the trip.
Stay tuned for the gems though – they make for some interesting discussion.