Lewis, Simon - 'Border Run'
BORDER RUN is a suspense novel set in the forest region of China near Myanmar (called Burma here). Will and Jake are two backpackers taking a gap year between leaving school and, in Jake's case, university. They have followed the guidebook's advice and stuck to the tourist routes (or "mango smoothie trail" as they more than once call it, with the false arrogance of youth). Before Will wakes up one morning, Jack goes out for breakfast and strikes a deal with a local man called Howard to drive them to a spectacular waterfall unknown to visitors.
The cautious Will is extremely reluctant to participate as he is suspicious of Howard's motives, but Jack goads him into overcoming his concern and the three men set off in Howard's beaten-up jeep. What happens to them next is described in the rest of the novel. The author is expert at conveying Will's dread of unknowable disasters, and of portraying situations that seem to teeter on the brink of the precipice. When, eventually, something does happen, the two lads are pitched into an escalating series of actions that at first seem reasonable but soon spiral out of control into various forms of violence. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Will, who is less confident and has more of a conscience than his two companions – but for how long will his moral stance last?
For once, I can't argue with the description on the cover of the book: "A fast-paced, adrenalin-packed ride of a novel. Lord of the Flies meets The Beach". There are indeed similarities here with Lord of the Flies, as the two young men struggle for survival in a wild environment and become unrecognisable from their previous "civilised" selves. Yet there are essential differences, for example the relentless, but differently expressed, racism of all three characters, rendering them all unsympathetic and hence making it hard for the reader to care very much about what happens to them.
Although the novel is exciting, there is more to a good book than excitement. All three characters are insufficiently portrayed; as the reader encounters them merely in terms of their actions, the only real matter of interest is whether or not they survive their various dilemmas and ordeals. Will is the most clearly drawn of the three, in that the reader is made aware of some of his insecurities about his girlfriend back home and so on. However, there simply isn't enough here to engage. Perhaps this book is best suited to a teenage readership because of its "coming of age" themes, or for those who prefer to read a simple adventure story without much else to it. I hope other readers will not find the ending a disappointment, as I did.
Maxine Clarke, England