Satirical and comical cruising novel marred by a somewhat uneven keel
Luxury cruises offer blackberries ?? too ripe actually? opportunities for comedy and satire: open bars and hearty buffets, onboard spas, fancy casinos and restaurants, guided shore tours and trinket-filled gift shops at every stop, not to mention the wide array of captive passengers and servants. Everything screams excessively. Comedians and satirists thrive on excess.
Montrealer Will Aitken has taken up the challenge of luxury cruises with his new book The Swells. It’s advertised as “dark and hilarious satire,” a billing it only partially satisfies. At times, it’s dark. It’s only sporadically hilarious (but often amusing). is scattered and uncertain.
The Swell starts brilliantly. Briony Paget, veteran travel writer, gets a phone call from her editor Gemma as she’s about to have dinner at a fancy, fancy restaurant. Their magazine was sold and renamed. In a conversation riddled with biz-spin and wacky malapropisms, Gemma quickly tricks Briony into accepting that she’ll write less (emphasizing ‘listicles’) and be paid a minimum, doomed to a life of lavishness. new homelessness.?? Other writers were summarily dismissed. Contemporary journalistic practices are carefully skewered here.
Immediately taken on a mission on Emerald Tranquility, the most luxurious cruise ship afloat, Briony connects with tour guide Mimi and fellow journalist Gigot. They understand the situation: ??the more expensive the ship, the older the clientele.?? This is how satirical conflicts arise: hyper-rich old cretins, cynical authorities and downtrodden service personnel.
The obese captain of the ship Kartoffeln commands a security force of Uzi-toting ??Gummy Bears?? which depicts a pirate raid during an initiation costume ball. Blocked in their quest for “gold and the end of capitalism”,? the surviving pirates kidnap Gigot and escape. The rich offer to make a collection. A trickster who calls himself Little Buddha calms everyone down. From elementary to quirky, Aitken satirizes some obvious early touring goals.
At the heart of the novel is a high-low conflict between service personnel ?? confined to small airless quarters on Zircon deck and below?? and the wealthy passengers from the upper decks Lanvin, Limoges, Halston, etc. Downstairs, an aging lesbian, Mrs. Moore, has advised dark-skinned service staff on four previous trips on the rebellious principles of Franz Fanon. Taking Fanon to heart, the staff cause a power outage, a typhoon hits, and then the staff stage a mutiny, dispatching the captain and throwing him overboard.
In true satirical fashion, everything turns upside down. The servants become the privileged and the wealthy are forced to do all the odd jobs. And then the pirates attack again and chaos ensues. Not Saturnian, but again they are old people.