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Heliopolis Paperback – 1 Jan 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (1 Jan. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846551889
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846551888
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 2.1 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,106,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'He has the ability to take on the heaviest of themes with the lightest and most compelling of touches'. -- Daily Telegraph

'The writing is exemplary: you feel the hand of a natural at work, one whose command of tone is strong, and who has an instinctive feel for handling a story.' Guardian -- Guardian

'This novel merits the epithet Dickensian in a number of ways: in its generous anger at injustice and inequality, its attention to the lives of the poor, and its relish for food... Read it for the power of the writing, the descriptions that fizz off the page, and the lust for life.' Independent on Sunday -- Independent on Sunday

'Written in beautiful, clear prose, at ease equally with the flittering, dangerous games of the socialites and with the pungent depths of the slums... fascinating.' Literary Review
-- Literary Review

`A book that will linger in your consciousness long after you put it down.'
-- Pink Guide

`A fast-paced novel with ingenious and constant twists. The language is brilliantly sharp'. -- Daily Mail

`Fast-paced with ingenious and constant twists... brilliantly sharp... an unsettling and magically compelling read.' Daily Mail -- Daily Mail

`Scudamore does a sound job'
-- The Metro

`Scudamore has the superb novelist's gift for giving vivid, sympathetic life to even second string characters, as well as his main ones; he also has the extraordinary power of summoning an entire brooding, smoggy city to life. Most of all, though, he has the ability to take on the heaviest of themes with the lightest and most compelling of touches, and leave you with an appetite for more.' Daily Telegraph -- Daily Telegraph

`a kinetic novel, spiced with stunning imagery'.
-- Financial Times

Review

`(A) well-paced narrative.'

'He has the ability to take on the heaviest of themes with the lightest and most compelling of touches'.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There is something about James Scudamore's `Heliopolis' that reminds me of the writing of the young Iain Banks. Given the importance of Banks in what might be described as `interesting mainstream' literature over the past quarter-century, that is significant praise.

The first thing that reminds me of Banks is the prose. It is clear and elegant, enabling the reader to place him or herself fully within a scene with the minimum of effort. Secondly, there is the setting. Sao Paulo as seen by Scudamore is a place on the edge of reality, a strange landscape of high towers and seething slums, of rich enclaves and threatening favelas, home to a society as strictly stratified as anything in The Bridge or Walking on Glass, in which the inhabitants of each stratum can scarcely comprehend the existence of those in any other - the rich seeing the poor merely as a threat, the poor seeing the rich merely as an irritation. This divide is elegantly expressed in the office where the hero works: a tower block fallen into disuse, converted into a shanty town and then, at the last minute, bought by an ad company, converted into their office, its graffiti and crumbling architecture perfectly preserved.

Next there is the protagonist and plot: a young man looks back over the blunders and blind alleys of his brief life, questing (knowingly or not) for the truth (or perhaps `the TRUTH') about himself and his family. The young man himself - Ludo, a boy taken from the slum of Heliopolis and raised amid the gated wealth of Angel Park - is a somehow charming combination of arrogance and naivety, capable of both deep insight and extraordinary insensitivity to others.
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Format: Paperback
I had heard good things about James Scudamore's first novel, which someone told me was set in Ecuador and had been nominated for the Costa prize. Having spent several summers in Sao Paulo and travelled in Chile I was drawn to this book, hoping for an exciting holiday read that would remind me of my travels. I was not disappointed. This is a gripping and highly original novel with complex yet credible characters and an innovative plot. It evokes the squalor and neighbouring splendour of Sao Paulo memorably and accurately and I finished it in a couple of days. Sharp and satisfying fiction.
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I bought Heliopolis to take with me to Brazil. I was staying for some time in Sao Paulo and thought it might give 'atmosphere'. It is well written and I found it easy enough to stay with it but it never really seemed to go anywhere and it did not feel particularly 'Brazilian'. I think my reservations are threefold.
First the characters...or rather character as there is only really one! I guess that it is in the nature of novels written in the first person that you only really get to know the narrator in any depth, and all the other players are seen through his eyes. That was very much the case with this book. Ludo the main man is interesting and quite likeable but all the other characters, although they have great potential, remain rather sketchy and lacking in complexity.
The second thing is the plot. Yes...there are some happenings in the story and quite a few memories of past happenings, but not nearly enough to fill a full length novel. I never felt 'gripped' in the least and never felt the need to carry on reading to find out what happened next. There is a sort of denouement at the end but not one that I cared much about.
Lastly, as another reviewer has commented, I really did not recognize the city that I was staying in. OK I was living in a relatively quiet working class/lower middle class suburb with a Brazilian friend, and the locals were not helicopter owners or drug dealers like the characters in Heliopolis. Nevertheless as I traveled around the city on local buses, ate in bakeries and drank in bars I found SP to have a very special feel to it that Scudamore does not evoke at all.
The man can definitely write and I am sure he knows SP quite well but this material might have been better condensed into a short story. It is definitely not the great Brazilian novel I was hoping for.
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Set in Ecuador The Amnesia Clinic was an impressive - and award-winning - debut about story telling. Buy it and read it. Then read Heliopolis. It too is set in South America and is an even more satisfying read. Dealing with super wealth and extreme poverty; nuture and nature; luck and choice; freedom and compromise... The author has created highly credible characters locked in often extreme situations, and manages to invoke empathy for all the major players. Get on with your third, Mr Scudamore. I have no objections if you want to return to South America - or visit Japan. But I'd love you to apply your brand of edginess to the UK today.
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Heliopolis was long-listed for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and certainly deserved inclusion in the run up, but as everyone knows by now, the prize went to the marvellous Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall. Up for the same prize was Jim Crace's Harvest, but that didn't cross my radar until later. I got Heliopolis at my local library and the book it most reminded me of was Ian McDonald's time travel book Brasyl, which didn't get even get short-listed because it's a genre book. Call it what you like, Speculative fiction or Science Fiction, it was one of my favourite reads of the year. Comparing it with Heliopolis I have to say it can't hold a candle to Brasyl for pace, breadth and excitement, as well as a breathtaking plot strand based in the South American jungle in the 1700s.

But I did read Heliopolis and I have to say it grew on me, not least because it concerned a child, Ludo, born in the favela (shanty-town) whose mother was lucky enough to be invited to cook for a wealthy family and Ludo found a secure home with riches and privilege, his for the asking. He receives a good education and lives in America studying at a prestigious college for a time. He is given a job in and we first meet him when he is 28, living in the city of Sao Paulo, and in love with Melissa, his `sister' by adoption. Though he is loved, in particular by his mother and by Melissa, he is very much aware that he is living the good life by dint of luck and there is a precariousness to his thinking, as if he is subconsciously afraid that everything good in his life could be taken away at any moment.

I won't detail the plot, suffice to say it's lively and entertaining, sometimes quite shocking, featuring a kidnapping and the venality of those at the top.
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