BABYLON - Stephen Sewell
A young English backpacker gets into a car with an older Australian man somewhere in the Australian outback, and the violence, threatening, rape, pillage, murder and general mayhem commences. Somehow young, innocent, a bit wet Mick the backpacker stays. Despite the drugging and rape of a couple of under-age girls by Dan, despite the weird behaviour, despite the somewhat over the top sense of menace and madness, and especially despite Mick's somewhat wishy washy assertions that "he" didn't rape those girls... but.
And that's possibly the big problem with BABYLON. There are "but's", "why's", "what the's", and "oh you have to be joking's" littered from one end of the book to the other. I don't have a problem with the idea that somehow a young man can get himself caught up in events and actions (to be fair one of my all time favourite books takes an innocent young man on a crime spree across America with an absolute lunatic and true nature reveals), but what's missing in BABYLON is why and frankly much consistency in the true nature. Why does Mick seem almost comfortable in his role of "observer", why does he join in on the killing in one place, and protect another possible victim, only to be convinced of her worthlessness immediately after? Why does he follow Dan's lead so blindly? The idea that somehow Dan was a manipulator, a man able to influence another so comprehensively, that somehow he's giving Mick the out that he needs to satisfy his own base nature... nope. Not in a pink fit. As for the "what the's" - well they were so thick on the ground I was surprised the rolling of my eyes didn't make me dizzy.
It wasn't just that there seemed to be a revelling in the violence, there was something sneakingly gleeful which was really discomforting. It wasn't just the predictable misogyny and the appalling dialogue. It was also the plot device of the mad, bad lunatic lurking out in the Australian bush, just waiting for the innocent idiot (English backpacker / city girl in heels). Seen it all recently and sorry, but unless it's rock solid believable, it reeks of convenience. In BABYLON, however, what was most disappointing were the wasted opportunities. A couple of cops doing the chasing were conveniently bumbling idiots who couldn't read a map, but were full of tedious observations about the nature of evil and police corruption. Why they had no hope of finding these guys, even though they seemed to know who they were just simply did not make sense. But what was probably most disappointing is that even though the set up was ridiculous, there is a point where BABYLON actually got involving. Not for long though as it crashed and burned to a motivation that was stretched so thin, Mick's fate wasn't veiled by it nearly enough.
In Stephen Sewell's apocalyptic thriller, Mick, an English backpacker, is heading North for the sun, the sex and the chance of making his fortune on the prawn trawlers plying the gulf. When he hitches a ride with the enigmatic Dan, a man with his hand on the wheel and his eye on the rear vision mirror, he isn't quite sure what he's letting himself in for, but he came to Australia looking for adventure. Well, he wouldn't be standing on a back road with his thumb out if he didn't. Only Dan is something else, from a place Mick never even dreamed of, and as the pair thread their way through the torn, broken landscape, in a spiral of escalating violence, he teaches Mick lessons he never wanted to learn, and shows him parts of himself he'd rather never seen.