Madness Is Better Than Defeat

In a madcap yet cerebral thriller, London author Ned Beauman (Boxer, Beetle) riffs on Hollywood's Golden Age as well as the histories of natural disaster and mental instability surrounding jungle epics like Apocalypse Now.

Young scoundrel Elias Coehorn is dragged into his father's office, where Elias Sr. informs him that he will voyage to Honduras, disassemble a hidden temple and ship it back to New York City--or face disinheritance. At the same time, Jervis Whelt, a young film school professor, is appointed director of a jungle epic by powerful and reclusive Hollywood mogul Arnold Spindler. Spindler sends Whelt and his cast and crew to Honduras to shoot on location at the very same temple, but they arrive to find Coehorn's team already disassembling it. Neither Whelt nor Coehorn will back down on their different plans for the temple, and so both teams simply stay in the jungle, where they form two roughly cobbled rival nations who fashion dictatorships and democracies, bicker and reproduce as the years pass.

Despite a huge cast, varying from zany to sympathetic to evil as the day is long, Beauman avoids an overstuffed mess by leaving no one unconnected from the central narrative and souping up his writing with a liberal dose of crackling one-liners. The resultant experience feels akin to taking a psychotropic drug via reading, as appears to be Beauman's cheerful intention. Reminiscent of the Coen Brothers at their best, Madness Is Better Than Defeat is a strange, brilliant and satisfying trip to a more entertaining version of history. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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