Water Music” And Other Boyles

June 9, 2014

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I read “Water Music” by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

This is a mind-stretching, boisterous, epic, bawdy and violent fictionalization of the life of African explorer Mungo Park who, having “discovered” the Niger River for the white man and become a national hero in the process, was killed, along with the remnants of his party, near the end of his second expedition in 1806.

More, Park’s story is intertwined with a mind-stretching, boisterous, epic, bawdy and violent fictionalization of the life of a London derelict and crook, Ned Rise, who, in the book’s own sweet time, would be a member of Park’s second expedition.

The book is written in a rollicking tone and seems comic if one can put aside the seemingly endless degradations and violence these two men have to put with up. I thought it was wonderful and couldn’t wait to read more.

I have a habit of binge-reading a particular author that I like, reading all of their books in sequence.  I did that with Boyle.  By the time I caught up with him he had written perhaps a half-dozen novels and several books of short stories.  I read them all, one after the other, back to back.  And I never found another thing by Boyle that I really cared for.  Terrible disappointment.  “Road to Wellville” was OK (and certainly a much better book than the movie they made of it), but only OK, I thought.

Once I’d caught up with his publications I read one or two more as they came out.  But then I couldn’t do it any more.  That was perhaps fourteen years ago.

So, a few weeks ago, I picked up the old copy of “Water Music” and read it again.  Just finished it; it was hard going at times.  I still enjoyed it, still think it is worth the read; but it can be a hard slog sometimes.  In this novel he writes about fascinating things, places, people, ideas with passion and verve.  But there is just so much of it, the constant disappointments, the constant torment and complaints.  Damned hard work for a leisure activity!