English Toss on Planet Andong follows the story of Paul, an Australian teaching English in Korea, touching on the peripheral journeys of two other expats, Billy and Denzil.
As the central character, Paul’s role is largely that of observer. However, over the course of the novel, the reader is granted building insights into his back-story, and by the end of the book, he is a more sympathetic character than he appears in the opening chapters.
The introduction of Denzil was a little jarring, but his story is eventually woven in with that of the other characters. Initially, he seems bizarre and comic, but ultimately he is a tragic character. At times, he is very difficult to read about; the reader is torn between cringing at his earnest devotion to an art he fails to master and sympathising with a damaged man.
Billy, however, is the most interesting character in the work. At one moment, he is charming and likeable, the next he becomes abhorrent. “Engagingly repellent,” as Paul refers to him. We are only granted brief insights into Billy’s background and the internal workings of his mind, but these provide a good portion of the bleakest moments in the book. His fascination with Catherine is both uncomfortable and moving; through it, the reader is shown a glimpse of a broken and complicated man.
English Toss on Planet Andong is not a politically correct novel. Nor does it have a linear plot with an easy, happy ending. Instead, it is an often-difficult work, populated with characters who are too flawed in nature to be unconditionally likeable. The book itself, however, is easy to read. The language is smooth-flowing and the dialogue authentic. I struggled, however, with the depiction of the locals, which was, to me, the greatest negative of the novel. Despite this, I found it an entertaining read.
(I received a copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.)