Travelling is something that always brings out the very worst in me. Simply getting a bus to somewhere unfamiliar in my hometown can set off a frenzy of anxiety that can ruin not only my day but those of everyone I come into contact with, so you can probably imagine the nightmare I can make of travelling to a different country. Add in that I’m also someone who needs frequent medical interventions and it becomes blindingly obvious that the fantasy of living on a desert island will always remain just that to me – a fantasy. So it’s a good thing that people like J. Maarten Troost exist to do the travelling and write about it for me.
Having already lived something of a nomadic and adventurous life, taking in war zones and disasters amongst other not so lovely things, when Troost’s girlfriend is offered a job helping to develop and educate the citizens of Tarawa, a remote island in the South Pacific, he jumps at the chance to move with her and start the idyllic life of his desert island fantasies. On arrival, it’s soon obvious that island life is actually anything but idyllic, filled as it is with packs of feral dogs, poverty stricken people who believe that shitting anywhere is OK, corrupt government departments and a depressingly narrow diet built entirely around the few things that can be grown on the unfarmable land. It’s no wonder that its inhabitants get shitfaced as often as they possibly can.
When I first started The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I thought that Troost’s voice might irritate me too much to enjoy it, but before long I was sniggering along as he described the latest jaw dropping adventure with the island fishermen who took their lives into their hands every time they ventured on to the water, the dancing frenzies that were the highlight of the island year, and the terrible lack of reading material that had him impatient for every infrequent visit by ships bringing new supplies.
A light-hearted book which made me more grateful than ever that I live in a house with heating, clean water, and regular deliveries from supermarkets, The Sex Lives of Cannibals provided some entertaining insights into a world very different from my own, as well as making me more OK than ever about the fact that I will be only be leaving England for short spells.