THE BAGGAGE HANDLER
Martin White, editor of The Shallow Review of Books, likes his life as he likes his work: shallow. Living in purposeful near-isolation in the middle of a crowded city, he keeps his relationships superficial and his life uncomplicated. His deliberate avoidance of social potholes prompts his colleagues to turn to him for assistance handling their own life and relationship baggage, which only strengthens his resolve never to allow any of it into his life. He’s pretty happy, albeit hollow and empty.
But then Kasia turns up. Young, Polish, focused on minding her own business, she neither invites, nor encourages Martin’s flailing attempts at romance, but he can’t help himself. For reasons that defy logic for an isolationist such as he, he falls for her, hard. Years of handling baggage have done nothing to equip him to handle his own however as he realizes with excruciating displays of ineptitude, again and again. He’s way out of his depth …
Faced with a challenge by Rich, his more socially adept colleague, to ask Kasia out within a week or Rich will, Martin has no option but to open the doors to all the complexity of modern life and relationships as he re-emerges from the shadows.
A twisted romantic comedy, written from the male perspective, The Baggage Handler is an acknowledgement that if you’re going to be serious about it, this love stuff is hard
I don’t know where I’m from, but my best guess is that I’m South African though that’s really a twist-of-fate rather than a birthright. Born in England, I moved to Belgium when I was two, South Africa when I was 12, Dubai when I was 25 and back to South Africa when I was 31. Nowadays, I call London home.
I’ve done some fun stuff. I helped start a successful business in South Africa which I still part-own and I spent a lot of years before that writing articles for magazines around the world. My first attempt at a novel happened in 1995. It was laughable. My second happened once I’d got over myself, in 1999. Not a lot better. But since then I’ve made writing a big part of my life and The Baggage Handler is the first one I’ve had the guts to put out into the world as grown up enough to take its own reviews. I really like it. I hope you will too.
I’m still writing so there are more books on the way. Other authors talk about their awards and their accolades, so I suppose I ought to do that too. I won two white mice at a school tombola once. That’s kind of it. My mum made me donate them to the school which is just as well because the cat would probably have eaten them anyway. He was a monster, that cat… Other than that, I’m just a guy who loves telling stories, loves language and respects both enough to know that if I’m going to ask readers to trust me with their time, I ought to do my best to make it worth their while.
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Martin White looked at his watch. All around the floor of the open-plan office, people gathered in groups, then split into others, mingling through the murmer of after-work plans that had thankfully long since stopped involving him.
It was after five which meant that he would have the place almost to himself and get the best of his work done. In the longest part of a London summer when daylight beats the night by two-to-one, Martin thought of the extra hours of sunlight like plundered loot from a captured galleon.
“But he still struggled to lose the mindset he had when he founded it as an ironic blog and twitter feed. It was supposed to be a statement against shallowness; a veiled lashing out at the people who believe that superficiality and substance are the same things. He guessed those people didn’t care about reading good books anything like as much as they did about being seen reading the hottest book of the moment”
“So I met this writer and I thought she was great and since I never meet the writers, I thought I’d also read her book. Well, sort of read it anyway. She told me what it was about and I flipped through it. So I wrote the review on that”
After those two passages from the book, I am almost scared to write down my thoughts about The Baggage Handler, for fear of being thought by the author to be too shallow, or worse still, not even reading the book! So, I had better begin by stating that I read every single word, on every single page, of every book I write about!
It didn’t take long to recognise that to read this book I would have to be quite broad-minded, as being written by a man, conversing predominantly with other men, it was suitably replete with what I would describe as men’s ‘locker-room’ humour, innuendo and language. In the overall context of the story though, I didn’t find this overtly offensive or overused.
This was certainly a character based novel rather than plot based, as the story itself was an easy uncomplicated one, which left Colin with plenty of scope to enhance the content with some excellent characterisations which grew in depth during the course of the book, with even the background characters taking on some important and relevant roles of their own.
This, coupled with some excellent dialogue, (much of it making me cringe with embarrassment at its ineptitude on Martin’s part), together with some tastefully executed humorous exchanges, particularly between Martin and Kasia, made ‘The Baggage Handler’ fun to read. I found myself alternating between frustration and sorrow at the depths of Martin’s inability to communicate other than on a totally superficial level, with wanting to shout and lash out at him for his utterly wimpish and at times downright callous behaviour.
First of all I had to get used to the idea that there was a complete role reversal in this story, which meant that Martin’s reactions came across as almost feminine and submissive, whereas Kasia was definitely in charge of the situation throughout, until she decided that enough was enough and Martin needed to step up to the mark if he was in any way serious about a relationship with her.
In Martin we superficially see a shallow, lonely and excessively defensive character, who is only best able to communicate with those outside contacts over whom he feels he is able to exert some modicum of control. Surprisingly this ‘shallowness’ has brought him some success in his career, albeit a career which many would find quiet distasteful. This success has also had some quite surprising side effects, as he is now treated as an inhouse ‘agony aunt’ by his colleagues, although whether they are laughing with him or at him, is a debatable point. I got the impression that whilst Martin is outwardly laughing with people, inwardly he is crying out for help and becoming increasingly isolationist and withdrawn.
As the story progresses it is easy to see why Martin may be quite as bad as he is at communicating. Whilst he comes from a family with an excellent career pedigree, communication skills as a family unit are almost non-existent. It would seem that he has never had a true father/son relationship with his father, to whom winning is the ‘be all and end all’ of everything, whilst he has a love/hate relationship with his overbearing, overpowering and domineering mother. Basically, Martin has never been able to meet, yet alone exceed, their expectations of him, leaving him underconfident and acting like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
He is unable to cope with rejection and after having been unceremoniously ‘dumped’ by his one true love, has decided that the only way not to get hurt again, is not to get close enough to anyone to allow that situation to arise. This strategy only serves to make him appear a cold and distant character who seems to have no feelings, therefore leaving him even more open to being hurt, however unintentionally, by friends and colleagues who do not understand this strange behaviour.
To a perplexed Kasia, it appears that Martin is completely uninterested and unconcerned that she may have problems of her own and despite her giving him all the chances in the world to be completely open and honest with each other, she decides that she is not going to be able to make the breakthrough necessary, to move the relationship off of first base.
Several people try to offer Martin advice on how to turn things around with Kasia, although it is eventually the combined efforts of three relative strangers, unknown to each other, who bring him to his senses, helped in an odd way by his mostly absent mother, who does actually seem genuine in her concern for her son’s happiness, yet unable to articulate it to him.
Martin learns some invaluable lessons from his mentors; you can separate your work from your personal life; this whole concept of love and ‘happy ever after’ is a two way street; and that he just needs to ‘grow a pair’ and accept that if things don’t always go according to plan, then you have to take it on the chin and stop keep blaming the world and everyone else in it, for your woes …. and the outcome? – well you’ll just need to read the book and find out for yourself!
As this was an author invitation to read and review, a complimentary copy of the book was sent to me by the author.
This will in no way influence any comments I may express about the book, in any blog article I may post. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.