Michael Greco is a good, professional author and a brilliant writer, with a real flair for offbeat comedy, which borders on the farcical. But, you definitely have to immerse yourself in his wavelength, pretty quickly, because “The Cuckoo Colloquium” is very busy; he has a tendency to jump around a lot, making it quite difficult to keep track of what is going on from one moment to the next. Once you get used to this, you realize that he is really very clever at writing with an ensemble cast of characters, and it is simply like trying to hold many different conversations simultaneously, which grow increasingly surreal and absurd (I’m okay with this, because most of my family are Irish).
As the story progresses, whilst questioning the point of the self-improvement seminar field trip they are on, each of the characters –primarily made up of a motley and stereotypical group of teenagers from around the world - starts to find more of themselves, and that is apparently not good. You start to realize that they are each trying to place themselves as the group’s leader, and you sense this book is gradually moving towards a “Lord of the Flies”-type moral. But, it does not, and, to be honest, I was thankful for that. Instead, “The Cuckoo Colloquium” - despite retaining its quick-witted and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny humour – actually becomes genuinely quite frightening, as the jungle turns against them, and seemingly every of its elements becomes unambiguously malevolent. In his or her own way, each of them emerges to either loathe or embrace the rainforest, as their individual situations descend into surreal and deadly chaos, which looks promisingly to build toward an absurd crescendo.
Greco has a sincere descriptive talent, and his Borneo rainforest setting is so vivid and real that you feel you are there with them all, suffering every perilous, skin-crawling and stomach-wrenching bit of it; he clearly knows the environment well. To tell the truth, Greco does not paint the Borneo wilderness in a particularly affectionate light, which is surprising; at times it genuinely makes you squirm reading this book (think of the snake pit in “King Kong”). But it does draw to a very satisfying conclusion, and highly enigmatic; what exactly are the talking animals? Are they real; are they manifestations in the mind of each uniquely troubled and very different explorer; or, are they a metaphor for the change each traveller ultimately goes through - arguably for the better. Whatever they are (and my suspicion rests with the third of those options) I have to say that the cuckoo doesn’t feature very much!
Michael is a genuine talent and this quirky book is a
real gem. A great book to read, yet at
times hard, too – it is far more multi-layered and poignant than it may at
first appear on the surface; it is after you have reached the end of the book
and mulled it over that its true qualities start to occur to you. You just need to find Michael Greco’s
wavelength and join him on it, then you’ll be just fine.
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In : Book Reviews
Tags: michael-a.-greco teen comedy borneo rainforest wildlife jungle fiction