Tennille Moffat is the world’s foremost authority on Beatles’ collectibles – from tickets to their iconic performance at the Ed Sullivan show to a gold lapel pin from George Harrison’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Suit, she knows better than anyone both the sentimental and monetary value of items both common and rare. When a mysterious client, Mr. Blue, invites her to his island sanctuary in the Maldives claiming that he has the half of the hole given to Jeremy in Yellow Submarine , Tennille has no choice but to take him up on his offer.
When she’s met at the docks by Captain Denaho, a swarthy Maldivian pilot with a mischievous glimmer in his eye, Tennille’s initial apprehension, about traveling alone to a secluded island in a country that she doesn’t know the language, is dispelled by his outstretched hand and a glass of fermented coconut milk. But when Tennille wakes with a throbbing head in a field of flowers surrounded by stone sentinels, she realizes perhaps that she didn’t understand anything about The Beatles at all.
As a Beatles fan, I was instantly intrigued by the conceptual nature of this novel. It combines fantasy and science fiction into a cohesive, but occasionally difficult to follow, story full of rich characters and surreal circumstances. Doug TenNapel has successfully incorporated his fascination with history, pop-culture, and science that has previously only been hinted at in his earlier non-fiction, works like, The Theoretical Physics of Earthworm Jim and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: or How the Agriculture Industry is Trying to Kill You. Bad Island is obviously a labor of love and Beatles history and the subculture dedicated to it are the main focus of the novel.
It isn’t often that a world is so richly drawn by a writer that you come up grasping for air and needing a dose of reality, but TenNapel does exactly that with his prose. If he fails at anything it is in revealing too little. When the main character, Tenille, realizes what is going on, the reader is still left completely in the dark and struggling for another 50 pages. However, with such intriguing characters – Tenille, Captain Denaho, and the enigmatic Mr. Blue – there to escort you through the dense puzzles, it is easy to forget that you’re suffocating on an overabundance of background information, while desperate for immediate clues. Books that force you to operate, metaphorically, with one hand tied behind your back, or one eye blindfolded, create an unnecessary handicap that can occasionally be frustrating.
I will say that, by the end of the book, I felt as if I had just spent a semester in a pop-culture history course that revealed both a great deal of factual information, but also spent a lot of time speculating as to the motivations for and social ramifications of “The Beatles” culture. It was a fun romp which managed to be both sparse in prose and rich in detail and I would recommend it to anyone who likes their history with a dash of adventure.
(A Book by its Cover is our weekly column in which we review a book based solely on the cover, without any other knowledge of what it is about. Any similarities in our review to the book are purely coincidental and proof that we are awesome)