In light of our increasingly troubled nation I can’t be alone in wishing to baton down the hatches and watch re-runs of Knight Rider; when world ills could be addressed by shiny hair and a talking car you didn’t want to be hiding with in the dark.

But there is a red flashing light going off somewhere. In the past few weeks I’ve watched two films about escaping to the wilderness, while reading Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers.

Dave Eggers is a novelist frequently finding himself if not part of the Zeitgeist then making it. His superb novel the Circle was recently found to be the most perfect novel, by scientists no less, while his Hologram for the King captured the hinterland of international business almost as accurately as The Way Inn by Will Wiles. For anyone who’s spent any time in a hotel lobby that it’s impossible to describe while you’re there, much less later, the idea of lying about in sleeping bags while reading by the flickering light of a campfire becomes deeply appealing.

Following up the most perfect novel must be hard, and Dave Eggers’ fragile idea feels like he’s scraped the bottom of his ideas drawer, to find nothing, and relied instead on this hackneyed road trip. It concerns Josie, who flees her dentistry practice to drive her two children in a battered camper van better suited to landfill around the Alaskan wilderness. It’s the sort of plan that makes a drunken dare to jump in a canal appear well thought out and risk assessed. The lead character is nice enough but her kids seem to fluctuate between being 3 and 23 in the same sentence. I wonder if he’s ever met any children before. They are also monumentally annoying.

It’s like Eggers has spun a tombola wheel marked Random People in Alaska, and made Josie bump into them.  Some are interesting enough, but there’s the sense that he has no idea where the book is leading and writes with the hope of finding out. There’s so little plot it makes 50 shades of Grey appear epic. He might have been better off actually doing it himself and making it autobiographical.

I’ve loved most of his other books, and while Heroes of the Frontier is well written, he seems to be looking for a story as desperately as the protagonist, and failing. Perhaps this over identification with the character is its genius, but if I want to get lost on a journey I can always order an Uber.

On the subject of taxis, Hunt for the Wilder People is a New Zealand film reminiscent of Luc Besson’s Taxi, i.e. absurdly funny. Who can’t be seduced by advice such as ‘If you’re lost in the wild – you find water and follow it to high ground so you can see what’s going on.’ It’s certainly an alternative to the What’s On pages in the Evening Standard.

It’s hard to know when human’s first started talking about moving to the country. It was probably before they had even left it; the grass is greener even when you’re surrounded by the stuff. For many city children the countryside was full of tree sprites and cheerful agricultural workers, until they were evacuated during the 2nd world War, to discover that it was full of tree sprites, cheerful agricultural workers and too dark to see your hand at night, which served as its main entertainment. It was certainly some time before the 2015 film Captain Fantastic, in which Viggo Mortensen father’s six children in the Washington state wilderness. It looks ideal, other than the acoustic guitars, compulsory reading of Dostoyevsky or Kant, and rock climbing in the rain, but his children know of nothing else. Their first encounter with Mortal Kombat being played by cousins is akin to Crocodile Dundee’s disbelief at New York City.

The nearest most Londoner’s get to the wilderness is a Trees for Cities donation bucket, or Glastonbury festival. The gravest issue facing the world is overpopulation and the countryside is where you can ignore this, apart from the rampant construction of Noddy houses. Swapping oyster cards for oyster shells seems a particularly good idea when a woman speeding past a primary school punches you in the face for suggesting she slow down, or queuing up for a ride at Legoland, but like Dave Eggers’ Josie there’s a sense of purpose of living in a city that feels difficult to give up. Sometimes it’s better to live with the fantasy than the reality.

I thankfully survived appearing at the Curious Arts Festival with Dave Eggers in July and my novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –