This is an engaging and fast-paced read that sets the scene immediately. A bomb hits the factory where country boy Juan’s parents work, orphaning him. As Juan surveys the rubble, a stout man in a bowler hat rises from the embers, points at him, and heads towards the city. Four other figures appear from the devastation, dressed as colourful harlequins. They head off in the opposite direction, never acknowledging Juan.
Juan has three choices: to stay in the village, to head to the city, or to follow the harlequins. He chooses the city and is talent-spotted by the mysterious Alex to join the Boundless, a higher echelon of city society.
C. M. Taylor builds his world with precise strokes, never telling more than is needed. The city is full of familiar places, from the Sydney Opera House to the Louvre and Kings College Chapel. The rich can pay to have a beach, or the Alps brought into the city on a whim. City society has a strict hierarchy with Extras and Intransigents at the bottom, The Boundless (the movers and shakers) in the middle, and Shapers (trendsetters) at the top. Juan is living the life, earning big as a trader with the clothes and flat you’d expect and a non-stop round of parties, drugs, and transitory hook ups, delivered in other worldly form.
Chapters about Juan’s life in the city alternate with those about the travelling harlequins. Whilst the city chapters are dry satire, the harlequin tales are bawdy and surreal with references that link their path to Juan’s as they journey through the desert and eventually reach the city.
City of O is pure escapism and great fun to read. An allegory for materialism versus meaning in life, it will make you laugh, flinch, and ponder. Highly recommended.
Karen Rust has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. Her work features in literary magazines including Mooky Chick, Ellipsiszine & Cabinet of Heed. She ghost-writes biographies for Story Terrace and runs creative writing workshops for young people through Writing East Midlands. She is currently working on a YA cli-fi thriller which she hopes to finish by Easter.