Tuesday, February 15, 2005
HelloLand is the second novel by Nick Walker, an author who so impressed with his debut novel BlackBox. There are similarities between the two novels, both have something of an ensemble feel, are layered, complex and have something of the black comedy about them. They are also best approached without too much forewarning as to what happens.
With the opening of HelloLand we are introduced to Chip, who is a space fan, and dreamt of being an astronaut as a child. However as a one armed man the best he can do is to move to a town close to the launch site. There he ends up with a job working a hotel switchboard, and his shift means he can’t even be there to watch this morning’s shuttle launch. So he has to make do with the second hand report delivered via the phone by a friend. To mark the shuttle launch, Chip has arranged to have a party, but as the guests arrive and the arrangements come together he becomes increasingly anxious.
Walker likes his narrative gimmicks. In BlackBox he told his story through a series of numbers representing flights. In HelloLand the narrative is for the most part constructed from phone calls. Most of the story being in the form of conversations though Chip’s switchboard or events which he can see from the hotel’s reception desk. Set over the course of something like 4 hours, we follow the progress of Chip’s party plans, while he deals with his cantankerous and perverse boss and a selection of demanding hotel guests.
Walker’s characters come to life in his writing, as each of the people we meet as their own little quirks and he maintains an ongoing dialogue between them. In the course of HelloLand there are parts where you could weep with how badly wrong things can go, while at the same time you find yourself wiping away tears of laughter. Plot wise, HelloLand is less convoluted than BlackBox, but it is just as vivid and as brilliant a piece of writing.
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