Sunday, September 1, 2019

Book Review: 'Lost in the Crowd' by M.J. Santley

Lost in the Crowd by [Santley, M.J.]

‘Choose to be optimistic, it feels better’ – Dali Lama

British author MJ Santley is a born storyteller – and this debut publication bears witness to that fact. As a self description offers, ‘In my own mind, I am an idiot. In the minds of many others, I am not. I’ve been told that I am clever: I am intelligent, and even that I am a genius, I am not. I’m a f*****g idiot.’ That degree of humor pervades this fun book.

Before the novel even begins, the tone is set in a scenario in Belgrade where we meet the author and his problematic brother – ‘Old dilapidated building. Inside a small court behind a locked iron gate. Two men sit together, both staring straight ahead. One of the men, Chris, is barefoot and dirty, wearing soiled, ripped jean shorts and a blue Serbian football shirt. He looks disheveled. He has recent cuts to his head and face, and also several large recently-healed scars. One eye is black, swollen, and completely closed. He is also shaking slightly, as if craving something. The other man, Matt, is much better turned out. He is wearing smart blue shorts, a white collared T-shirt, and shades. Although clean, Matt hasn’t slept in over fifty hours. He is exhausted…The Female Serbian Judge – ‘you have been charged with the crime of trespassing breaking into the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade – and drunk and disorderly behaviour.’ 

There are many hints from this passage that reflect the tenor of this two year memoir – the author’s coping with his complicated brother as well as an entry into the writing style that makes this book inimitable. Matt’s (MJ Santley’s) journey illustrates that life is a game of chance and we must deal with what we encounter: the option is…not so great. As the liner states, this is‘ a hard-to-believe, often hilarious, crazy, heartwarming journey through life - a journey that recurrently seems to be influenced by mysterious forces beyond his control and understanding. The book is defined by events that occurred in the author's life during the two years it was being written. These events bring the book to life and give it a whole new meaning.’

The prose is rich, sprinkled with crude adjectives and enlightening engagements with the many facets of travel, and while the atmosphere is very often hilarious, the author does offer some challenging insights on how to deal with the twists and turns and disruptions and flavors that life offers. And from his multiple episodes he shares that whether we win or lose, we learn from our mistakes. 

This is one richly rewarding book to read – both for the fine writing and the insights offered. The book is enhanced by the superb art of Chris Rivers-Nuttall. Totally successful! Recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.