If you didn’t already know that Mic Looby was once a Lonely Planet writer and editor, it’s not difficult to guess, reading his debut novel, Paradise Updated. In it, the satirically named ‘SmallWorld’ publishers dominate the guidebook industry and the bloke who made them what they are today, legendary Robert Rind, expert on the island nation of Maganda, has reached his use-by-date.
Enter the adoringly awkward Mithra, SmallWorld editor, with weaknesses for Mr Wrong and the muffin trolley. She’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime – to replace Rind and write the updated version of the Maganda guidebook, known affectionately (or scathingly) as The Bible. But the big guidebook authors come with matching egos, and Rind’s is the biggest. He is hilariously disillusioned with his status as the man who put Maganda on the tourist map (while being utterly clueless about all things Magandan). In every way a mess of a human being, Rind is impossible to hate.
Mithra, on the other hand, is one of those curious characters that manages to be endearing without ever doing much. Her character works, mainly, because everything that could possibly go wrong happens to her. And it’s damn funny. Anyone who’s been overseas is familiar with the frustration and despair that can sometimes accompany a holiday. And Mic Looby never lets up.
He never gives his characters a break, which, while entertaining to read, is also incredibly exhausting. From Mithra’s sweaty ride to the town of Bahala on the Changra Paste Express, to the horrendous combination of inner thigh chaffing and mosquito bites, we come to understand our heroine’s resentment at being thrust into the less than glamourous world of travel writing.
Then we get these beautifully crafted sentences (about baggy shorts of all things):
‘There was so much air rushing in and out it felt as if there was nothing at all between his soft, pink shame and the outside world.’ (p85)
Paradise Updated is an intelligent read, and more than a little funny. But it’s not a book to take your time with. It’s super fast, and may cause repressed memories of travel horrors to resurface. But apart from all this, a fantastically written memoir – err, I mean, fiction – about the glossy, greedy, globalised industry of travel book publishing.
Elena Gomez is an aspiring writer, blogger and journalism graduate turned publishing noob. She discovered she could write when she won the QLD Courier Mail Young Reviewer of the Year Award 2000, age 12, with a review of Luke’s Way of Looking by Nadia Wheatley. She now writes for www.withextrapulp.com.au