Calabash: A world built on imagination

Kevin ‘Kay’ Goodwin is a teenager with a smart mouth and too much imagination. He is stuck in Cole Bay during the early 70s, a grey little seaside town that is slowly decaying around its inhabitants — a place of high unemployment and little prospects.

Kay has always been set apart from his peers. He has little interest in their activities, preferring instead to research extinct civilisations — a hobby that endears him to his history teacher, but nobody else at school.

Running in fear from the school bully, Kay flees down the pier and onto a condemned sea level platform. His world lurches and he opens his eyes to find himself in Calabash — an idyllic village that seems an amalgam of all the ancient civilisations Kay has studied.

The population greet him with open arms, treating him like a long lost friend and he is welcomed with equal enthusiasm by the Sultan of Calabash and his lovely daughter, the Princess Rosamunde.

Kay travels between these two worlds at will. The real world of Cole Bay with its bullies, boredom and drudgery — where his family is falling apart and his friends are moving away. And his imaginary world of Calabash — with people who respect him, beautiful women adore him and the weather is balmy and warm.

As he starts to grow up and contemplates leaving school, he is forced to recognise his Eden as a part of his childhood that should be put to rest. Calabash may be more real than Kay thinks, but it could also be the start of decent into madness akin to that of his late father.

Kay is the central character and everything is written from his point of view. All of the Calabash characters have the sketchy quality of remembered dream, but took me a while to realise this same quality was also in effect on the Cole Bay characters as well. Kay’s immediate family have a little more substance, but overall are still second string players to Kay. Cleverly written characters against the backdrops of the dull and monochromatic Cole Bay and the bright and colourful Calabash make for memorable read.

Christopher Fowler, a man with a talent for seeing the dark underbelly of England, takes a step into the light with Calabash. It is a warm and dryly comic look at the painful business of growing up — taking place at the crossroads of youth, where childhood dreams are lost to the realities of living in an adult world.

If you’re unfamiliar with Christopher Fowler, this first foray into mainstream fiction is a good introduction to his writing. His characterisations and storytelling abilities have always been incredible, but this book proves his talent isn’t confined to the realm of horror and should be the impetus needed to bring his work to a wider audience. Although, if you like your books dark and clever, Christopher Fowler’s other work is well worth taking a looking at.

I don’t know how easy it will be to find Calabash. Christopher Fowler is a London based author and not all of his books are available in the US. I would expect that any big book store could order his work in, but if that fails try Internet Bookshop or Amazon in the UK.

Published WrittenByMe — 13.02.2001
Published Epinions — 24.03.2002
Book available from Amazon UK

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