Thursday, August 02, 2018

Angels & Rabies - full reviews

Angels & Rabies - full reviews

The lovable Manchán ‘Mocha’ Magan, described on the back cover as a ‘slightly unhinged young man’ here recounts his journeys to the Americas, North and South. ‘Slightily unhinged’ may seem a bit harsh, especially coming from his own publisher, but given that it soon emerges that he spends  a lot of time talking to a personal angel called ‘rabbit’, sanity was never going to be the book’s strongest point. Indeed, this is a surprisingly intense narrative. It’s chock-full of frenetic travel experiences with all the usual suspects: cult members, rabid dogs, druggies, indigenous people and Israeli backpackers. Mocha’s good-natured about most of the people he meets, although he has a certain knack of damning with faint praise. Most notably, he tries to give a fair explanation of the values and ideas of the ‘Screamers’ – a cult group he met up with in Columbia, a group that had in fact left 1980s Ireland due to persecution. I defy anyone to read this account of them without concluding that whatever persecution they got wasn’t half enough.
The least enjoyable part concerns his requited/unrequited love affair with a Hollywood actress he met in Ecuador. Apart from her looks, we don’t quite get what was so enchanting about her. Her identity he refuses to reveal, although he does give snippets of information, including that she posed naked for Penthouse. That might be a route to finding out her name – one would just have to go through copies of Penthouse, find Hollywood actresses and match them up with the other information. Obviously no one associated with Irish Homes would be prepared to do such a thing . . . Anyway Manchán has clearly decided to be as open as possible which makes the book a little raw at times. The flurry of intense, psychedelic, emotional experiences can be overwhelming. There are more humourous parts, especially his dealings with the local environmentalist activists who consider themselves Sting’s righ-hand men and are working on an environmental report for a British charity. Alas, they cannot complete this task as they do not trust the only member of the group that can type. Then there is Mocha’s forced conscription into the Ecuadorian war effort in its brief border conflict with Peru (1994-95). They managed a draw. All in all, this is not the easiest of reads but never dull, and always genuine.
Patrick Holden, Irish Homes, December 2006

While not a music book, per se this 278-page travelogue exudes an attidude that is unmistakably rock ‘n roll.
Fueled by the same wild  abandon – though not illegal substances – as Jack Kerouac, Magan journeys through the Americas with nothing but adventure on his mind.
The Irishman’s mission is well and truly accomplished as he lives in a primal screaming commune (Columbia), contracts rabies in a rainforest (Peru) and meets woman addicted to menstrual blood (Ecuador).
Stuart Clarke, Hot Press

Colombian writer Gabriel José García Márquez, immersed in magical realism, conceded that he felt tempted to throw his novels into the sea, such was the power of everyday life in Latin America without embellishment or invention.
The intrepid visitor can leave their hotel in the morning not knowing whether they will ever make it back again. Step off the beaten track, dump the guide book and anything can – and will – happen. However, the colour, glamour, danger and disease associated with South America can lead writers to assume that by merely turning up and taking notes, the outcome will be a gripping tale.
Before anyone assumes to publish, they should read The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, Che Guevara's travelogues and Louis de Berniere's War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, all bursting with madness, adventure and a keen eye for local detail. Some fine writers have been caught in the Latin American trap, with Brian Keenan and John McCarthy (Between Extremes) turning an epic journey into an endurance test for the reader. Meanwhile, it seems that every holidaymaker in Cuba feels a moral obligation to write a book that recycles worn clichés about old Havana, vintage cars and cheap women.
Manchán Magan breathes fresh life into the Latin American experience, his apparent ignorance of his surroundings giving him a curious protection from danger. The journey starts in Colombia where Magan hooked up with the Screamers, the Irish therapy commune that moved from Donegal to Colombia in search of freedom and self sufficiency. Magan's razor-sharp portrait rang sublime and true, capturing the tyrannical zeal of these self-appointed gurus.
Magan abandoned farm labour in Wicklow and hit the road with a degree of innocence that combines Forrest Gump with Father Ted's sidekick Dougal. In search of love and understanding, his only companion is "Rabbit", a secret friend and inner voice, goading him into action. There was a moment, early in the book, when Magan's self-questioning threatened to drown the book in psycho-whimsy, but he eventually holds his "Rabbit" in check. Yet the journey within is also a vital element, particularly when fever strikes and "weird hatchings of light appeared in lattices on the periphery of my vision". Fellow traveller Paddy Gish finds Colombia repulsive; "a vicious, dirty, godforsaken place that should be flushed down the sewer". Magan bears with the initial trials and tribulations, persisting with his quest for self-knowledge.
Each chapter is gripping because truly insane things happen around the author: war breaks out in Ecuador; a famous Hollywood actress falls into his arms. Then there are the near death experiences: as a frequent traveller to the region, I have always gazed in wonder and fear at the makeshift showers installed with open, electrical wires strung right by the water head. How come nobody gets an electric shock? Magan of course, gets the shock.
The book kicks into top gear when the protagonist, realising that the Amazon jungle is just around the corner, takes off on a bicycle to surrender himself to its mighty embrace. As he careers wildly down a hill, a huge dog appears and chases him, eventually sinking his teeth into his ankle. That evening he is told there is rabies in the area and he must either catch the dog or get the vaccine. The ensuing adventure is the highlight of the book.
In Ecuador, Magan accompanies a sombre environmentalist on a visit to a Shaman anticipating ancient wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. The reverential tone of the visit is destroyed once the shaman is asked what he needs for his people: "an outboard motor". Anything else? "Guns". The disappointed environmentalist asks him to suggest something more personal. The holy man asks for a new penis. "Mine doesn't stand up anymore," he said.
In the latter part of the book, Magan travels to the Canadian Rockies where he is once more swept up in remarkable events and a lucky escape from the law. In one final twist, the author takes charge of a small child with a strong character, who probably teaches him more about love than everyone else combined. It is a warm, well written and entertaining book which will keep readers happy this summer and maybe even inspire a few to book their passage to Colombia.
Michael McCaughan, Village Magazine, June 2006

'I'd tell you that I'm suffering from the worst kind of loneliness - the loneliness of being afraid to allow myself to be understood.' Manchan, or Mocha as he is known, opens the book with a quotation that perfectly encapsulates this fascinating story. This travelogue is not an account of lands travelled, but rather an account of a deeply personal journey [...] From the primal screaming commune in the Columbian Andes to the tree-huggers in Canada, everyone is searching for or trying to escape something. If this sounds a little weird, that's because it is. Mocha is deep-thinking and slightly unhinged. He believes he has a guardian angel, a voice in his head called Rabbit. Although I couldn’t shake off the sinister image of the rabbit from Donnie Darko, the angel is often the vocie of sanity [...] Mocha's vulnerability and naivety make him likeable. The charm of the book is that, no matter how wacky, the story is all about people. Faraway lands can be hard to visualise, even with detailed descriptions, but love and loneliness are things we can all relate to. Very stange, but very enjoyable.'  
Leslie Ann Horgan, Ireland on Sunday

 “His approach is very much hands-on as he experiences life as lived by those he visits whether a primal screaming commune in Columbia or tree hugging in forests. His world is that of alternative societies and the picture that emerges is both disturbing and fascinating. Yet it is not without its farcical side, such as his falling in love with a Hollywood star whose identity he protects.”
“His writing is intimate and immediate, perceptive and humorous.”
Books Ireland

This is an entertaining irreverent, off the wall, slightly hippie, with the touch of an aftershave of flower power travelogue of the Americas, not the United States of America but the Americas. At times you would wonder who had the tongue in the cheek most, the author, the publisher or, you, the reader and this sense of "Ah...come on...." s whart makes the book so enjoyable. Whether you take it seriously or not, well that is up to you. Dan Kenny, Kenny’s Books