Book Review: One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding

(Note: Okay! Because my posting is sporadic and random, I’ve decided that if I’m going to be a jobless bum like I am, I might as well try to put at least one thing in my life in order. So, from now on, Mondays are going to be book review days.  There are plenty of books sitting around the house that I haven’t read/finished, and it’ll be a good exercise in sensible, meaningful blogging.  If I can get into a rhythm with this, maybe I’ll add other regular sorts of posts to make this the kind of blog where stuff gets discussed and not just a place for whatever comes into my head.)

So, I said in the way back whens after NaNo that I read books. It’s true! I also mentioned that I’d do book reviews and stuff. Apart from that post down there where I said I’d lately been starting a lot of books I hadn’t finished (or struggled to finish), I’ve pretty much not been doing that.

One Big Damn Puzzler also ended up as one of those books. I can’t remember exactly when I bought it, but I know it was bought specifically on one of the days when I was due to come back from my apartment to the house, and so I needed something to kill some time. Read some of it, though it was kinda cool, and then when I came home, it was ditched for shinier things.

Over the months (possibly/probably years), I would pick it up and read the first fifty or so pages again before ditching it once more. The reason here tended to be along the lines of ‘I’ve already read this fking thing before, why do I want to slog back through these fifty pages again to get to new stuff’, but then without reading those first fifty, wouldn’t understand what came after. The eternal conundrum. Anyway, the other night, I picked it back up as a light read. And read the damn thing (finished it) by about five in the morning. Awesome. Thanks, Mr. John Harding for causing me to stay up all night.

On to the actual review.  The book is essentially about an American lawyer who goes to visit a tribe of natives on an island which the United States visited, used up, and left plenty of landmines for the natives to trip all over. As a result, many of them have lost limbs or their lives. The lawyer, William Hardt, seeks to get these natives compensation for their suffering. The only problem? They don’t have a clue what ‘compensation’ means or why he’s trying to give it to them. And when he finally gets it for them, the only thing he wishes for more was that he had never come in the first place.

In between the tale of the island, there are chapters of William’s own fairly screwed-up life, which bring moments of unexpected levity and his struggles with OCD help to explain why he’s so adamant to get these people what they ‘deserve’. There are also chapters from a book the other white person on the island, an ethnographer named Lucy, has written about the customs of the people. While interesting, these only served to take me out of the action and most of the information therein was explained in other ways in the text.  The stories of Lucy’s childhood more than made up for the dryness of the chapters of her book, though.

Stylistically and structurally, the pidgin speech of the natives was hard and annoying to get used to, throughout the bulk of the book. By the end, I was only just starting to get used to it. As it probably does represent the actual pidgin speech of native islanders, there’s not much I can do but get used to it.  The arrangement of chapters – the natives, William’s childhood, Lucy’s childhood, the chapters of Lucy’s book – seemed to be fairly random, and I like reading books where I don’t know which storyline the next chapter’s going to be following.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. As I mentioned up there, I stayed up all night to finish it. It’s not representative of the books I usually read, but there’s no harm in going outside one’s comfort zone every now and then.

Rating: 4/5

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