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The Enchanted Island of Mamago


Loved it! 😍

Being the Perils and Adventures of a Young Butterfly Collector in the Land of Darwin

If you voyage to Joel McCaw's “The Enchanted Island of Mamago,” prepare for turbulent waters, tossed by waves of laughter and gales of hilarity, with a few rocky passages where the ship almost runs aground. It’s a journey populated by weird characters and features offbeat story lines, wrapped in a rousing albeit thoroughly loopy adventure.  

The fictional Mamago is actually not an island, enchanted or otherwise, but an island chain off western South America, somewhere in the distant neighborhood of the Galapagos. The central plot revolves around a hostile competition between biologists on nearby islands over which of them will inherit a rare butterfly collection. Emory and Evangeline Bryce, children of the deceased collector, travel by slow boat to inspect the rival facilities and decide which merits their father's collection.

From this point, the narrative careens along tangents following the exploits of the Bryce siblings, their lovers, families, friends, and enemies through a shipwreck, a failed coup, the kidnapping of a valuable sea turtle, a debate about the legacy of Charles Darwin, as well as numerous other follies and misadventures.  

Stylistically, I’d characterize McCaw’s writing as Gothic slapstick. He conveys grand themes like nature, sea voyages, and falling in love in a deadpan parody of romanticism, such as in the following:

“A real pleasure to meet you,” said Priscilla, her demeanor changing completely as an idea took root in her mind and grew, and prospered, and bloomed, within microseconds, in a process similar to that so beautifully captured in the time-lapsed sequences in Fantasia.

The author’s intentionally overblown grandiloquence is most entertaining when it sets up an whopper of a punch line—and most of the time, it does. Unfortunately, though, the third person narrator not only tells the story but insinuates itself into the prose with several gratuitous comments. An omniscient narrator who teases readers with intrusive remarks like “as you will see later” and “Well, you get the idea,” comes off as superfluous at best, or distracting, or downright annoying at worst.

“The Enchanted Island of Mamago” is full-throttle burlesque with just enough satire and inside jokes to keep thinking readers engaged. Nearly ever pages introduces some new comic absurdity or wacky plot digression. Its breakneck pace makes for a dizzying narrative that can be confusing, and although there are occasional clunkers among the jokes, the overall laugh per page ratio is quite high.  Four yuks out of five.

Reviewed by

Gregg Sapp is author of the “Holidazed” satires. To date, four titles have been released: “Halloween from the Other Side,” “The Christmas Donut Revolution,” “Upside Down Independence Day,” and “Murder by Valentine Candy.” Previous books are "Dollarapalooza" and “Fresh News Straight from Heaven.”

The Bryce Family at Home in Strangeways

About the author

Born and schooled in Rhode Island, further educated in the ‘60’s in Berkeley California, and traveled extensively. The Washington Post said he looks and sounds like he could have walked right out of a Graham Greene novel. Lives and works in McLean, Virginia. President of the Bent Twig Society. view profile

Published on August 04, 2021

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70000 words

Genre: Humor & Comedy

Reviewed by