Thursday, 26 June 2008

Rapids

I've been reading the book Rapids by Tim Parks for the last few days. I've been thoroughly enjoying it, even though I find the characters hard to identify with (middleclass pommies abroad with kayaks). His prose takes a bit of getting used to as he doesn't puntuate to help you differentiate conversations from description, or even who's talking/thinking, but once you get into the flow of things you don't notice and it makes the action flow really fast. I'm a bit of a snapshot reader anyway - I take in a paragraph at a glance - so this works for me. I'm not sure how a word-for-word reader would like it.

I assume the author is an avid wild water kayaker, because his descriptions are amazing and there is plenty of technical jargon that doesn't detract from the story. It's like being there, thrashing through icy glacial melt, trying not to die horribly and getting one hell of an adenaline buzz. I also liked the way he gets into his characters heads. The main POV is a bereaved middle aged banker, but you get to glance behind the eyes of a couple of others too. I believe there is an exciting climax coming up in the last chapter, and I'm looking forward to it. There is also a global-warming subtext to the story but so far I've been able to ignore it!

I tell you what though, it certainly doesn't make me want to try river kayaking myself! The sport sounds generally awful: cold, wet, painful and strenuous. I've been reading this in the evenings curled into an armchair with a blanket around me, sipping a glass of wine while the dinner cooks, thanking my lucky stars that I'm warm and dry!

Edit: I didn't like the ending of the book much - it just sort of fizzled off into middle aged angst. Most disappointing.

I have done a form of river riding in the past, but it was a whole different experience. On the border between South Africa and Namibia there is a large river that runs through the desert, called the Orange river. It is wide and silty, and for most of a week when I was 19 Mom and I went river rafting with about 20 people on several inflatable boats.

We would wake up at dawn on a river bank as our guides started a fire and prepared coffee and breakfast, then push off and drift with the slow lazy current until lunchtime when we'd stop and have lunch, then drift off again looking for the evening stop. Our dry clothing and food and (chilled) drink was carried by truck to meet us each night, and we'd eat and drink and chat under the stars before curling up in a sleeping bag and falling asleep under the desert sky.

The water was pleasantly lukewarm, and if the sun got too fierce during the day we would slip overboard and drift beside the boat, holding onto ropes while curious fish nibbled at our toes (a bit freaky when you can't see through the silt-laden water!).

Occasionally we'd have to paddle, if the breeze was against us and we needed to reach our stopping point before dark. And about once a day we would have to negotiate rapids. More like ripples really - exciting but hardly dangerous - half the time the boats would mess up completely and bounce down the rapids backwards with everyone screaming, only to be fine at the bottom. Quite fun actually! The whole trip was incredibly restful and de-stressing (just as well considering we wrote off our car in the desert on the way there... but that's a story for another day).

Much more my style. You can keep your wild meltwater kayaking!

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