O Holiest of Holies! O Sweet Mother our Saviour of Literature! We are blest to live in such times, for truly the rivers run sweet with milk, grain ripens endlessly in the fields, and multitudes of fish hurl themselves upon the shore for our delectation… after months of wading through mediocre genre efforts, I’ve finally received a good novel to review. Glory be!
Tuvalu might seem an odd title for a novel written by an Australian and set mostly in Japan, but it is. It’s about a young Aussie called Noah Tuttle, living the seedy life of the expat English teacher in Tokyo. This isn’t the neon wonderland of Lost in Translation though, rather a poky hostel infested with vermin in Tokyo’s equivalent of Kilbirnie. Noah’s a pretty average guy, none too handsome, self-absorbed, struggling with the little boys he teaches who won’t stop poking their fingers at his rectum. To his surprise, a stupendously sexy and rich young Japanese woman picks him up one night for some fun, only problem being that Noah’s already got a girlfriend who happens to be conveniently on holiday in Australia.
I don’t want to say too much more, in case you ever want to actually read this novel, which surprisingly enough I recommend you do. The delight of Tuvalu is that it’s genuinely surprising, with a plot that keeps going sideways but doesn’t lose momentum. This is O’Connor’s first novel, and it feels like a first novel; it doesn’t have the finely-tuned, intricately structure of a Maurice Gee book. That’s not a criticism though, because what it lacks in neatness it makes up for with a sense of endless possibility that’s true to life. The characters are great too. The utterly self-absorbed Noah Tuttle remains more endearing than he should, and the supporting cast are frequently comic without resorting to stereotypes or forced eccentricity.
Tuvalu won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, for whatever that’s worth. It’s not an incredible book, a modern classic or readbefore- you-die book, but it’s well-written, funny and refreshingly unpredictable. I still can’t believe it.
Allen & Unwin