Published by Fig Tree/Penguin
Ebook and Hardback available 5 April 2018
My thanks to Cat Mitchell of Penguin for sending a beautiful hardback copy of Things Bright and Beautiful to review and for the invitation to take part in the tour. Having only just received the book, I haven’t had time to read for the tour but instead have an extract to share.
Advent Island didn’t at all resemble the postcard of tan, smiling honeymooners that Max had shown her. It was not even a landscape, Bea thought to herself ‒ it was just land. She looked out at the ocean. It was flat and lifeless, unmarked by even a slit of foam. The day was so overcast that the sea and sky blended on the horizon in a leaden grey haze. The air was still and thick with water. It was difficult to breathe.
On their honeymoon in New York, Max had taken her to see South Pacific as ‘preparation’ for their trip. She ate two hot dogs during the intermission and smeared mustard on her blouse. Watching George Britton and Martha Wright dance about the stage of the Majestic had hardly been appropriate training for the dank beach and drab sea lying before her.
Tiny translucent hermit crabs stirred along the shoreline, and the sand wavered like an optical illusion. Four metres to her left, the bloated and skinless corpse of a cat was washed on to the beach. Bea closed her eyes. She had lain awake in Port Vila only three weeks before, imagining a beautiful riot of flowers and gilded parrots. But there was only jungle, and air, and sea. And everything was only green, or grey, or black. Except for her and Max. She opened her eyes. At least with no breeze she couldn’t smell the cat.
Instead, she could smell the sickly perfume of the rainforest. It reeked of a complex confection of decay. Even on the beach, far from the treeline, she could smell the rotting trail of smashed papayas that littered the coastal path, and the musk from the warm, hairy bodies of the two long-limbed black monkeys wheezing in the coconut palms. And there was the damp mustiness of her clothes. It didn’t matter how often she soaked, and pressed, and hung, and scrubbed, and rinsed them. She could detect it on her skin even after she had undressed at night. She stank of the treacly mildew of the jungle.
The sun was beginning to drop towards the horizon. Soon, it would curdle with red, and minutes later, there would be whole, complete blackness. Bea stood up, brushed a hermit crab from the lap of her skirt, and began the walk back to Bambayot.
Bambayot village was set on top of a hill about a ten-minute walk up from the coastline, in a small clearing of rainforest. Behind the village, the land rose almost vertically. The mountains were well tracked with footpaths to and from the farming allotments, but to Bea’s untrained eye, at first it had looked as if an unbroken green sheet of jungle simply sprang from the back of the settlement.
The village itself was a jumble of bamboo houses and chicken droppings. There were eight families living permanently in Bambayot, and each family had two huts: a larger one for sleeping in, and a smaller bushkitchen. Chief Bule also had a ‘holiday home’ he occasionally slept in, further east of the village. The houses were distributed over a slope that rose gently upwards towards the rocky forest in the north.
From the boat on the way over, it had been easy to see how isolated they were. Impenetrable jungle spread out as far as the eye could see over the island, and Max had pointed out the white dot of Bambayot Church in the midst of all that green. As the boat drew closer to the shore, Bea could see a sixpronged waterfall through the jungle to the north, and a glimmer of an old-fashioned western building high up in the hills to the south. Here and there along the shoreline, she could make out the odd clearing among the leaves, where smoke from village fires wound up into the air.
The main features of any island village were usually either a church, or a nakamal, the low-roofed ceremonial hut used for drinking kava. Bambayot was unusual, because it had both. The nakamal was south of the village, at the bottom of the hill, a stone’s throw from the huts of Willie Kakae and Edly Tabi, the only two confirmed ‘bachelors’ of Bambayot. The rest of the villagers lived on top of the hill. Smoky, cramped and muddy, the village was overrun by blond-haired, brownskinned children with swollen bellies and running noses, poking pores in the dirt with hibiscus switches. According to Max, possessing both brown skin and blond hair was a native quirk of the islands, and not, as Bea had thought, the resultant product of one white and one black parent. The church had been built at the front of the village at the bottom of the slope, where it could easily be accessed by boat. And behind the church, at the top of the hill, was Mission House, the place Bea now thought of as home.
Mission House was made from woven bamboo and pandan leaf, with a natangora palm thatched roof and a generous porch. Their central room was outfitted with one of the two stone floors in the village, with a lean- to kitchen that had been nailed on to the right-hand side of the building. The ‘living room’, as they generously called it, was bare of furniture, apart from their two stools and a splintery, unsanded wooden table which sat under the window on the left.
At the back, a narrow corridor led off into two bedrooms on either side. Bea’s bedroom faced the church. From her window, she could see the top of the huge wooden cross nailed to the top of the building, and an expanse of grey water beyond. In bed at night, if she listened carefully over the shifting and sucking sounds from the jungle, she could hear the ocean against the shore. Max’s bedroom also had one window that looked out past the edge of the village and on to a steep forested incline.
| About the Book |
When Bea Hanlon follows her preacher husband Max to a remote island in the Pacific, she soon sees that their mission will bring anything but salvation…
Advent Island is a place beyond the reaches of Bea’s most fitful imaginings. It’s not just the rats and the hordes of mosquitos and the weevils in the powdered milk. Past the confines of their stuffy little house, amidst the damp and the dust and the sweltering heat, rumours are spreading of devil chasers who roam the island on the hunt for evil spirits. And then there are the noises from the church at night.
Yet, to the amusement of the locals and the bafflement of her husband, Bea gradually adapts to life on the island. But with the dreadful events heralded by the arrival of an unexpected, wildly irritating and always-humming house guest, Advent Island becomes a hostile place once again. And before long, trapped in the jungle and in the growing fever of her husband’s insanity, Bea finds herself fighting for her freedom, and for her life.
| Author Bio |
Anbara Salam is half-Palestinian and half-Scottish, and grew up in London. She has a PhD in Theology, specialising in apocalyptic death cults, and is now a research associate at the University of Oxford. She spent six months living on a small South Pacific island, and her experiences there served as the inspiration for this debut novel.