Title: Poor Man’s Wealth
Author: Rod Usher
Plot summary: Dying village that no-one visits wants to boost tourism. Group of prominent townspeople decide to pretend that people sleeping in the streets will do that.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 snoozy Spaniards
Some ideas sound intriguing — imagine a town full of narcoleptics! — but can’t sustain a full-length novel. Like this one.
The term ‘sleepy backwater’ is used to describe a town that basically sucks balls to live in. Nothing happens. People sleep and people wake up, people are born and people die, but no-one really lives.
That’s the whole idea behind Rod Usher’s 2011 book Poor Man’s Wealth. Well, kind of.
The story is set in the fictional village of Higot, a (presumably) Spanish township that has built itself on the back of tobacco farming. I say presumably because the author doesn’t say, but they all speak Spanish. Maybe it’s in Mexico. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
The town has all the usual characters, including the mad hunchback and quietly spoken, dainty hairdresser, and is told in the words of the mayor, El Gordo — literally, the Fat One. He knows English because he’s been given a huge book collection to look after by Mr Giles, a rich Brit. Giles is so rich and so Brit that he has a butler named Todforth and he lives part-time in Higot because he likes the warmth and wants somewhere stupidly peaceful. Giles and El Gordo are good mates, and El Gordo gets a stipend to take care of Giles’ library.
A few of the locals know the town is going nowhere, and with no prospect of any tourists making their way to the town of their own accord, the townsfolk come up with an idea. They want something to elevate Higot like Loch Ness. They need a believable yet unbelievable hoax, and they choose to make people think they fall asleep while standing up. Anywhere, anytime. Even when they’re sitting on their pushbike.
Yep, selling your town on the fact that it’s so boring people snooze during the middle of the day sounds like a cracking idea. Not to mention an eminently breathtaking idea for a book.
But sure enough, word spreads, and soon the town has tourist buses arriving. The military junta doesn’t take kindly to unapproved tourist scams, and it moves to crack down. In the periphery of all the sleepy action, the fat mayor gets romantic with the hairdresser. Because that’s really going to happen.
The story meanders along and there are some great quips through the book, like the time El Gordo is speaking to a bunch of American travellers and doesn’t understand that Honey is a pet name. The enterprising hunchback has a few surprises up his ground-dragging sleeve, too.
But Usher walks down predictable paths in Higot, many of which end up as dead-ends. The character development is generally well executed, but it takes some stretching of the imagination to believe some of El Gordo’s traits. And the ending feels rushed and half-arsed after such a decent — but slow — build-up.
Poor Man’s Wealth is a sweet, sleepy, easy-reading story. But don’t bother. Like the narcoleptic characters within, the book is likely to induce sleep without warni