Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heliopolis by James Scudamore

Heliopolis is a very readable story about Ludo, a man in his late twenties, who was rescued from a 'favela' (slum or shanty town) when he was a baby. Ludo's escape was facilitated by a rich family who hire his mother as a live-in cook on their weekend home, an out-of-town farm. Ludo grows up on the farm adoring his mother's culinary skills and being able to taste the sublest of emotions through her food (in this way it was reminiscent of Midnight's Children). Ludo's best friend is Melissa, the daughter of the family, with whom he develops a dependency and an illicit affair. Ludo moves to the city with the family as he reaches adolescence in order to improve his education, and there he meets the weekday 'Ludo' and Melissa's future husband.

Ludo revisits key moments of his past as a way of illuminating his present, a life consisting of average performance at a job he hates, an unhealthy relationship with Melissa, who uses him as a bed fellow when it suits her, and the consistent consumption of copious amounts of alcohol and other toxic substances. A marketing campaign for a budget supermarket aimed at the favelas brings Ludo's disappointment with himself to a head as he tastes the life he narrowly escaped and discovers the identity of his hitherto unknown father.

Heliopolis is an engaging and swift read. Though I never fully sympathised with Ludo, I understood his reaction to the cage he built around himself as a result of the many favours bestowed upon him by his benefactors. Heliopolis contains interesting details that enrich the city that Ludo inhabits, with its colourful favelas and almost total segregation between the rich and the poor (indeed, the rich largely get around by helicopter, evading the need to set foot in the city, jumping from one helipad to the next). The helplessness and resignation exuded from Ludo until the end of the novel, and the pallor of the present compared with the colour of the past prevent this being a great novel, but it's certainly worth the few hours it takes to read.

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