The Greek islands are often romanticised in fiction, employed as a destination for disaffected middle-class wastrels wishing to rediscover what life is really about by eating feta salads on sun-kissed patios and tumbling into bed with handsome salt-of-the-earth locals. How refreshing, then, to read Christopher Bollen’s uncompromising view of contemporary Greece as a country rife with EU protest marches and plagued by packs of wild dogs and ugly tourists come to take advantage of the broken economy.
Amid this melting pot of tensions lands Ian Bledsoe, the eldest son of a rich New York family. His estranged father has just died and stiffed him on his inheritance. He has nine grand in cash, withdrawn before the family ATM card was cancelled. Reputation ruined by a misguided stunt at one of his family’s baby food factories in Panama, Ian is unemployable and has nowhere to go. His last resort is to contact an old Cypriot schoolfriend, Charlie, the heir to a billion-dollar empire with whom he played an intriguing game called Destroyers when they were young.
Ian needs a bolthole and Charlie is willing to provide both lodging and employment, at a price. He is running a dubious pleasure cruise venture from the island of Patmos, home of an apocalypse cult. Throw in an idyllic seascape crowded by refugees in rubber dinghies, some menacing monks, a duplicitous former girlfriend, a disappearance and a couple of possible murders, and you have all the ingredients for a slow-burn literary thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith.
Bollen has a whip-smart prose style that overrides a potentially ponderous narrative. The underlying commentaries on how rubberneck tourism and social media have left us uprooted and vacant are especially biting. “My motto is live, live as much as you can, and have the decency to tell others about it,” says one character. Another bemoans: “They don’t make people like they used to. Interesting people. People like destinations. People who are entertaining instead of entertained.”
The title also refers to the one-percenters whose lives the reader briefly inhabits. Their toxic feuding and nitpicking over money is destructive for their own families and to those in their employ, not to mention society at large.
The cult members who await the end of days on Patmos are misguided. This is Greece. The apocalypse already happened, and they are living in the ruins. JD
Scribner, 496pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 10, 2017 as "Christopher Bollen, The Destroyers ". Subscribe here.