There are so many themes in this highly entertaining book that you could spend hours debating the way Harding treats any one of them. It is a highly spiced yam-stew of a book, but infinitely more palatable than the one the author describes on his island. Unlike many of the reviews that feature on the cover, or this website, I didn't find the book laugh-out loud-funny. Constantly amusing, certainly.
What strikes me as particularly noteworthy is the sheer inventiveness of the novel, the quantity of richly drawn characters and the way they interact. You find you really do care about the destinies of the islanders and even William the central character who means so well but has such a counter-productive effect on the people he wishes to save.
One Big Damn Puzzler is alive with Shakespearian references, but even if you have little or no knowledge of Shakespeare, you can ponder the other questions raised by the book, such as the nature of the afterlife, the purpose of life itself, the merits of knowledge, the attractiveness of developed versus undeveloped cultures, the nature of belief - the list is endless. Harding also works in a little 9/11 near the end - though I can't help but feel that this was superfluous; the novel works perfectly well without it.
I get the impression from reading reviews also on the American Amazon that some readers have stopped short at the criticism implied of over-burgeoning American culture and the way it is exported around the world. This is certainly a theme, but if all you take out of the book is anti-Americanism, you have only scratched the surface of what the author is trying to say.
What Harding has done is write a highly intelligent novel that is also a page-turner and one which I can easily imagine re-reading at some later date. If I had one quibble it would be that the omniscient narrator does tend to spell things out for the reader. It would have been better sometimes if the plot were developed without commentary - the narrator is perhaps overly intrusive. But this is a small point. A fantastic read that should make you chuckle and may make you cry.
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