It’s always obvious if authors of fiction are writing about a topic or place they know well as they can seamlessly drop facts in without it appearing as if they’re offering up some sort of PhD thesis and overtly demonstrating their vast knowledge. The fact that Fiona Higgins – author of Wife on the Run and The Mother’s Group – lived in Indonesia and understands the place, customs and culture is thus very obvious (in a good way) in her latest novel, set in Bali.Fearless
by Fiona Higgins
Published by Allen & Unwin
on November 1st 2016
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Six strangers from across the world converge on the tropical island of Bali to attend a course designed to help them face their fears. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their fears - which range from flying, public speaking and heights, through to intimacy, failure and death...
Friendships and even romance blossoms as the participants are put through a series of challenges which are unusual, confronting and sometimes hilarious. A week of fun in the sun suddenly transforms into something far more serious, however, when the unthinkable happens - a tragic disaster that puts the group in deadly danger that will test the individual courage of every member...
Higgins did a good job of character development. In fact, as we spent so long with the first character we meet (Janelle) I’d assumed she’d be the focus but instead each of the six players are given a lengthy introduction and backstory – either at that time, or later in the novel.
The characters could easily have been clichéd but were complex and each brought something a little different to the group and to the plot. In addition to the sense of ‘place’ (or setting), the characters and their ‘journeys’ (apologies for the wanky word) were very much the strength of this novel.
Although I lived in East Timor (a former province and now neighbour of Indonesia) for two years in 1999-2001 and traveled to Jakarta, I’ve never been to Bali. It’s not a place I’m particularly interested in visiting but I appreciated that Higgins was able to share traditions and culture with us, including the awkwardly funny vagina spa and the teeth filing ceremony amongst the more typical tourist attractions.
I assumed this book to predominantly be about the ‘disaster’ mentioned in the blurb. I won’t share what that event entails, but it feels a little late coming (about 2/3 of the way through the book), almost as if an afterthought. Although the events of end are catastrophic and offered our characters some opportunity for growth, they felt a little underdone and almost irrelevant to the story.
However, having said that, the event included is realistic and contemporary. One can imagine its occurrence and again Higgins demonstrates her extensive knowledge of the culture and customs of her temporary home.
I liked that Higgins poked a little fun at some of the tourists, but also recognised that not all visitors are insensitive twats, just as all Balinese aren’t trying to make a buck off naive tourists.
I really enjoyed the early parts of this novel and learning more about our six participants, not to mention their responses to (and reflections on) the challenges and activities they undertook. In fact, I think I might have enjoyed the novel a tad more without the disaster – which felt like the interloper it was meant to be.
The range of characters on offer means this book should appeal to a range of readers, and very particularly lovers of Bali for the realistic portrayal of its culture and customs.
Fearless by Fiona Higgins was published by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
Are you familiar with Bali and this book appeal as a result? Or do you appreciate a character’s ‘journey’?