Tag Archives: Madness Is Better Than Defeat

Van has finished reading… Madness Is Better Than Defeat by Ned Beauman

15 May

I sat down to explain the story to Mrs Van. So there’s this guy… no, wait let me start with the temple, or… okay, so there’s this American magnate, and he… or, there’s a Hollywood film producer… no, no, go back to the guy – did I mention he’s in the CIA… maybe I should start with the octopus wrestling.

Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat is… well let’s go with this: it’s intricate, it’s funny, it’s sprawling in a very controlled sort of way, it’s inventive, it’s thoroughly gripping and it’s completely unbelievable, except that it’s also very clever. Simply explaining the premise of the story might be enough to raise the potential pothole in the plot:

In 1938 two rival expeditions set off for a lost Mayan temple in the jungle of Honduras, one intending to shoot a screw ball comedy on location there, the other to disassemble the temple and ship it back to New York.

A seemingly endless stalemate ensues, and twenty years later a rogue CIA agent embarks on a mission to exploit it as a geopolitical pawn – unaware that the temple is the locus of grander conspiracies than anyone could have imagined.

Why didn’t they just leave? Ah, but Ned Beauman, like Harvey, has overcome not only time and space but any objections too.

There’s quite a cast involved in this epic so the characterisation is necessarily on point, even down to the small appearances (I particularly liked Atwater’s wife for that mix of humour, desperation and vitriol). But really this book is all about the journey – the narrator, Zonulet’s journey mostly, but by association everyone connected with the temple too. And once you’ve read it that also means you. I suppose at some level we all want to feel like we’re the protagonist in our own lives and whenever a writer comes to put down their ‘is he mad or not’ story (as we all eventually do – mine was short and quite bad) the success or failure therein is in realising that it’s a moot point. It’s simply a question of perspective. In Madness Is Better Than Defeat, Ned Beauman does a first class job of weighting both sides of that coin.

Structurally I suspect the book itself conforms – if such a word can be permitted in regard to such a book – to ‘the rule’, or ‘the diagram’ as well (so there’s a level of meta going on beyond the layering of Vansaska’s opinions about the narrator’s literary ability) so that as a reader we find that we too have fallen under the temple’s power, and come those telling last lines we’re left not with madness but a kind of infuriated satisfaction.

 

I enjoyed Madness Is Better Than Defeat a lot. The humour, the pace and the mystery of it all kept me turning page after page. It’s a story to get lost in, to give yourself up to and simply enjoy the journey. If you’re in a book group it’s one to put on your future reading list, as I suspect it will prove to be one of those books that generates a lot of discussion.

 

Madness Is Better Than Defeat is published by Sceptre on 24th August 2017 ISBN: 9781473613584

You can find Ned on Twitter @NedBeauman or on his website nedbeauman.co.uk.

My thanks in particular to Veronique Norton at Sceptre for allowing me to review this book.

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