Thursday, 23 June 2011

Angels and Rabies by Manchán Magan

Manchán Magan graviates towards outsiders and drifters, people who by choice or for cultural reasons have been sidelined by society and hover at its perifiary.
He tends to be suspicious of those who have done so by choice but truly empathetic with the socially excluded.
When he comes across the remains of an Irish commune called the Screamers half way up a mountain in a Colombian jungle he is keen to visit but his inability to buy totally in to their philosophy leaves him isolated among the isolated.
I clearly remember passing a brightly painted house in Donegal during a family holiday in the 1970s and my parents saying that the house belonged to The Screamers, giving each other knowing nods as they did so.
The name stuck with me and an image of the house, although it was only years later that I discovered that the Screamers were a commune who practiced a form of group psychology by literally screaming their anger from them.
They scandalised Ireland at the time because of their communal living and gained a reputation as being a religious cult, eventually decamping across the Atlantic to South America.
When Magan meets them only a few of the original members remain and the group seems close to fracturing.
He earns their leader's wrath when he tells her that rather than ridding themselves of anger it seems to him that they have become addicted to it and he finds himself increasingly subject to it.
Magan portrays himself is a psychologically damaged person seeking healing, one of life's loners who doesn't seem to fit in with society but who wants to be accepted for who he is. He says that he doesn't fear death, that he sees it as simply passing into another way of existing.
However, his stoicism is pushed to a pragmatic battle for survival when he is bitten by a rabid dog in Equador.
The retelling is almost comical but the sense that he is facing a slow agonising death unless he finds expensive medication is tangible.
He survives and becomes a minor legend on the South America backpacker trail which is full of others who feel a similar outsiderness to him but who he seems unable to relate to.
There are some who he admires. Rory, a Welsh man who has fled civilization and bought 1,000 acres of mountain rain forest to try and create a utopia in Equador.
But farmers planting sugar cane are chopping down the forest all around him and encroaching closer and closer on his “temple” leaving it vulnerable to fire.
He also meets a number of indigenous tribes whose leaders seem to have message warning man kind of environmental devastation and particular insights into Magan’s condition.
He meets and falls in love, then separates with a Hollywood brat packer – all within three days – whose true identity he never reveals but drops enough hints for those care about these sort of things to deduct.
In the second half, and probably less interesting half, he travels to Canada where he becomes involved with militant conservationists, a drug dealer and takes part in a Native American pow wow. He ends this adventure in California where he has managed to track down his starlet.
Machan's travel books are much more than mere reportage, detailing offbeat adventures and quirky stories. There is a sense that the stripping bear of his psyche to be presented in such a public way is, or was, part of a healing process.
This is travel writing in both through the geographical terrains and those of the psyche.
For my review of Magan’s travels in Africa, which predate Angels and Rabies although were written more recently click here. For a review of his novel Oddballs click here.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

I recall fondly MM's encounter with the man who claimed to live only on air, and one who claimed, a bit more plausibly, to live only on fruit. His impressions of the embattled idealists holed up down below lingered with me. While I liked the Latin more than the North American portion, the excitement of crossing the Canadian border in the company of drug types carried its own momentum well. MM's a superb summoner of mood and tension, and the way he reveals himself while holding part of himself back in reserve draws me in even more.

As we've discussed, Tony, it seems you're on target regarding the reclusiveness and candor in mixed forms of this talented writer we both admire. Even if I still cannot figure out, lacking Hollywood acumen, who that starlet is or was, from the obscured hints.

(My review.)