As Flies To Whatless Boys
Published by Peepal Tree Press
In 1845, when the German-American inventor John Adolphus Etzler claims to have created a machine that can harness the power of nature to provide the basis for an utopian community in which people are free from the drudgery of labour, he is met by both scepticism and hope. Based on a real historical figure and the actual journey he made to Trinidad, with the followers he recruits in Britain, Robert Antoni’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the persistence of dreams and the individual human stories that underlie Etzler’s quest. In particular, Antoni’s creation of Willy, one of the younger utopians, is a tragi-comic tour-de-force in revealing the youth’s contrary impulses – between young love for the sparky Margaret, loyalty to his family as they discover the life-threatening realities of the tropical paradise, and his fascination with Trinidad and Etzler’s dream.
Not least of the novel’s attractions is the richly comic account of its researching, in the titanic battles between the unscrupulous researcher and the librarian who will protect her photocopier, though not her virtue, with her life. How this prose epic of Trinidad’s history connects to the present is a matter for the reader to deduce – but connect it does, in many satirical ways.