This book surprised and delighted me in equal measure. At one point author Jon Gower observes that:-"The world of coincidence is uncharted mystery". This might be understood as the books theme as it charts coincidental occurrences in Buenos Aries, Oakland Bay and Cardiff bound together, albeit tentatively, by the onward progress of a paper boat. The boat, made of newspaper, is home to the mortal remains of Flavia, a former resident of Buenos Aries whose 'undead' body travels the globe inspiring scientific speculation and religious devotion in its wake.
In a recent interview with AmeriCymru Jon described the book in these terms:- "A friend said that it "mythologizes an Argentine woman's journey around the world" and that pretty much sums it up. The woman, Flavia, is in a sort of purgatory, neither alive nor dead. Her story becomes a myth which becomes a religion, a case of global Chinese whispers." Her condition is in some way a consequence of and a testament to the undying love between her and her former, still earthbound, husband Horacio with whom she used to dance the tango in the back streets of Buenos Aries.
In the course of her journey she touches a great many lives and creates a profound impression but it should not be thought that the book is without humour. In fact the final section, set in Cardiff is suffused with surreal humour and bizarre incident. If you'll forgive a rather long quote, here is Jon's description of the passing of 'Bloomers' , a famous incident in the history of Caroline Street:-
"Half way along Caroline there used to be a famous club called Bloomers but someone attacked it with a petrol bomb, burned it to the ground. In the Echo the day after the conflagration the stalwart cartoonist, Gren, had captured the moment in an exquisite image. Caroline Street with a gaping hole like a tooth extraction: above it, dwarfing all the buildings, is an atomic mushroom cloud and there are two men flying through the air above the caption 'Now that's what I call a curry.' There is much more in this vein as the seemier side of Cardiff's nightlife and it's culture of heavy drinking and toxic takeaways are mercilessly ( and humorously ) exposed.
If you were planning to give someone a book for Christmas and were looking for something 'different', then look no further. 'Uncharted' has everything:- pathos, humour and a pace that makes it 'unputdownable'. The book is , unfortunately, ineligible for a Wales Book of the Year Award in 2011 because Jon is on the judges panel. It surely would have been a strong contender for first place.