Novel set in Nepal and Thailand (“a silly carefree tourist”)

  • Book: Down and Out in Kathmandu
  • Location: Nepal
  • Author: Jennifer S Alderson

Review Author: tripfiction



Three strong characters appear in this novel, Zelda, Ian and Tommy. How their paths cross is part of the storyline’s progression and the reader is kept guessing until the end.

IMG_3707Zelda is from Canada, has stepped off the work treadmill for a while, and opted to join a charitable scheme for a few weeks based in Nepal, teaching local children. Her accommodation is provided and she is soon, somewhat uncomfortably, ensconced with her family. She had hoped for authentic lodgings, with thangkas on the wall, and other local paraphernalia to colour her life, but sadly she finds herself in a bit of a concrete jungle.

She is not a natural traveller (she the silly carefree tourist of the title) and finds her bile rising as she succumbs to scams. Teaching is not her natural forte, consequently she finds herself challenged on more fronts than she can tolerate. She is also focussed on comparisons between home and Nepal, and although she tries to catch herself doing it, she does stray into the territory of the whinger. And a whinging tourist doesn’t make for an edifying read.

Ian has taken a break from teaching in Australia, is a bit of a pothead, and he is a fast worker as he has grown his hair into dreadlocks especially for this adventure. Needless to say he gets himself into some scrapes along the way.

Tommy is based in Thailand – a bit of a surprise bearing in mind the title – and a fair proportion of the story takes place there. He is an unlikeable waster, who thinks he has an eye for the girls, but is an insecure pretend playboy. An insufferable buffoon, basically.

All three in their different ways take on gangland mobsters, and this is where the story becomes a little implausible. Amateur travellers take on big time gangsters. Goons and henchmen abound and ‘the boys in blue” also get a look-in. It is in the latter half of the book that the competent writing at the start begins to wane, and annoying typos creep in – is body order the same as body odour, I wondered? If not, what is it? “what a second, should, I imagine, be wait a second and a sentence like “..taking him for a fool just like him mom” left me scrabbling for the sense. The Khao San Road morphs into the Kho San Road and whether the sentence “it was the same day she’d gone on a hike with Ganesh the other volunteers in the Kathmandu Valley..” is missing punctuation, a word or simply features a typo, I am not sure. More than a couple of errors can rather impact on the reading experience. It is imperative, always, as an author to engage the services of a reputable proof reader.

Interestingly the author has chosen to have the content type set to the left. Books are usually (just check any random book on your shelf) centred and there is a reason for this. The eye, as it skims across the text from one side to the other, needs the regular straight boundary at the edge of the block text, both left and right. However, when the eye has to keep searching out the end of the line, the fluidity is jarred and the reading experience is impaired. It becomes a ragged read rather than smooth flowing and pleasurable.

The locale is certainly hot and steamy and successfully brings to life the trip Zelda undertakes in the company of her guide, Khamel, to, for example, Swayambhunath Monkey Temple – this outing is well rendered (the temple was sadly damaged in the Nepal Earthquake of 25 April, 2015). Kathmandu really doesn’t come across as an easy place. Money is the main language and Zelda finds herself preoccupied with the dirt and squalor.

Finally to the cover. Block colours are often shorthand for a manual rather than a novel. “Adventures in Backpacking” which appears under the main orange title is pretty much lost, as black on dark blue simply doesn’t stand out sufficiently clearly. Nor am I sure that the composition works – is the main image a stupa? And  what of those rather beady orange eyes looking out at the potential reader? They left me feeling a bit creeped out. I think I would also find it irritating, as an author, that the cover artwork isn’t centred, that there is more red background on the right than on the left…. but hey, each to their own about what is acceptable and what isn’t…

This book is however a reasonably solid read, and if some of the content issues are addressed in the next print run, then it is worthy of a good 3.75* book to take to Kathmandu because it does convey the venal, buzzy feel of the city.

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