by Wayne Ashton
Fremantle Press, $27.95 pb, 681 pp
Equator, a rambunctious, unwieldy novel, begins in a Spanish orphanage with an elderly watchdog, Pinski. According to the narrator, who is addressing a large orange butterfly, Pinski has succumbed to the heat of the day and cannot be bothered protecting his human charges. The human characters – and therefore, by association, those who are reading his story – are called ‘the custodians of the nectar’. This rather beautiful metaphor is used many times in Equator, as are dialogues, which become incantations about good and evil.
That the narrator is revealed to be Bobbo, a teak box, quickly allows the reading custodians insight into the nature of the book. It is magic realism, of course, but there are other clues in the novel: the short, pithy chapters with names such as ‘The Room in Soho Grows a Tree of Songs’; and characterisations that border on the picaresque. There is David Darlington, aka the colonel, a Scottish Hindu; his wonderful chanteuse aunt, Lee, who performs her songs virtually nude; Elli-Isabella, a giver in a world from which too much is taken; and the boy Carlos Luque, who, orphaned by Franco, then deposited in the Hacienda Zaragoza for parentless children, is the connecting thread in the narrative. He is known by many names: Keiran Leeft, Keep Left, Kee and Sunrise Sunset. He runs away from the orphanage to find his sweetheart, Rosa Mendoza, at the age of eleven, purchases a sailing boat seven years later, and never bothers with a fixed address, since he rarely lives ashore.