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Pacific Odyssey: The Curious Case of Lew 2.0

by Chet Nairene


Rating: *****


Thirty-six-year-old tech wizard, Lew Clarke is about to ascend to god-like status at the corporate behemoth he has worked for since leaving Harvard. Accolades, and more importantly to Lew, eye-watering levels of financial recompense are raining down on him.  


But when a minor, forgotten issue floats shockingly to the surface, Lew’s gold-plated, superficial existence implodes.


After licking his wounds, Lew embarks on a new business venture, importing highly intricate, bespoke wooden garden ornaments directly from the supplier, Lotus Creations, in the tiny kingdom of Amazia, Southeast Asia.  Money and the good times roll abundantly again. Until a trickle of strange complaints becomes a deluge and Lew is left with no option but to seek out the mysterious retailer from the even more mysterious Amazia…


Pacific Odyssey definitely ranks as one of my favorite novels so far in 2024.  I read Nairene’s earlier novel, Pacific Dash, last year and thoroughly enjoyed it*. However, with Pacific Odyssey, Nairene has shifted up into fifth gear. It’s a highly imaginative and unusual book that I found almost impossible to put down.


From the opening couple of paragraphs, the novel instantly hooks the reader. Confident, breezy, and intriguing, it crackles with comic energy and is deceptively well-written. It would have been easy for Nairene’s depiction of Lew, and his employer, the corporate IT titan, Mega, to have fallen into stereotype.  


And, while Nairene does tip the reader a knowing wink for some elements, it’s done with clever subtlety and wry, observational humor, a tone that continues throughout the novel.


The structure and ethos of Mega is not only horribly credible but incredibly well-conceived.  When Lew is put out to pasture at Mega’s global call center in Weehawken, Nairene depicts the place with hellish accuracy.


Although the novel is relatively long, it’s fast-moving with wave after wave of itchy foreboding. None more so than when Lew discovers Lotus Creations. However, underneath the suspense and possible chicanery, a faint sub-textual and thought-provoking commentary emerges as Lew and best friend, Sal, navigate the differences between the East and West cultural mores.


These distinctions prove profound, although Nairene keeps the reader guessing about the Amazians. As the novel gathers pace, a compelling mystery begins to unfold at its heart.


Nonetheless, on the surface at least, Part Two also resembles the finest of travel memoirs, certainly reminiscent of Paul Theroux’s rail journeys. As Lew travels from the capital of Amazia, Ruangbang, up to Biti, a deeply rural backwater, it’s excellent stuff. Kafka-esque, funny, immensely authentic, and never becomes far-fetched even as the reader is hurtled into a surreal rabbit hole.


Lew encounters hurdle after hurdle until assistance appears in the form of Boo, an Amazian who speaks English. The advent of Boo changes the novel a touch, it becomes a little more serious, and also rather spiritual both in terms of the narrative and Lew’s trajectory.


This esoteric turn is enhanced by Nong, Boo’s cousin. She reminded me of Fiona Lo in Nairene’s previous book and, at times, seemed underdeveloped, although her enigmatic countenance and reason for it, form the basis of the narrative’s outcome.


Pacific Odyssey is richly descriptive, vivid, sensory, and full of whip-smart, nimble dialogue, especially between Lew and Sal, whose exchanges are warm and amusingly natural. All of Nairene’s characters from Harry at Mega to Wongrat at the Miracle Royal Pagoda Hotel are wonderfully convincing and step from the page.


Pacific Odyssey is a literary thrill ride. Darkly funny and thought-provoking, it’s written with consummate verve and captivating vibrancy that never fails to entertain. Highly recommended.

 

*Click here for my review of Pacific Dash.

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