Part fiction, part non-fiction, Charles Nicholl's The Fruit Palace was a book begging to be written on the Great Cocaine Story from the 1980's. Setting out to report on the who, how and why of Colombian cocaine smuggling, Nicholl propels himself to the forefront of the story, in typical gonzo fashion. In the process he he samples plenty of product, deals with loads of shady characters and puts himself squarely in harms way in order to try and get the scoop.
The Fruit Palace initially began life as a much shorter piece written on a dodgy cocaine deal from the whitewashed cafe after which the book is named that is used for a range of nefarious deals. After the stories subsequent rejection from Rolling Stone, it is recast some 12 years later as the opening chapter of The Fruit Palace.
Written in the best tradition of Hunter S. Thompson, The Fruit Palace delves deep into its subject matter, the manufacturing and distributing of cocaine. The blow-by-blow account of how cocaine is manufactured in the jungle laboratories, illustrates the lengths to which Nicholl goes in his research. And Nicholl is there to capture it all line-by-line.
Surprisingly, there is also a lot of travel infused into the main story, and it is here that Nicholl is at his descriptive best, whether recalling the beauty of Colombia's jungles, its people or its crumbling architecture. Nicholl also manages to infuse a fair bit of humour between the pages. Not snort out loud funny, but entertaining in that typical English understated way, all the same.
Yes, The Fruit Palace is dated. The Colombia of today represents nothing like the Colombia that Nicholl travelled through, both literally and in his mind, in the 1980s. But The Fruit Palace still represents a genuinely original piece of gonzo journalism that effortlessly cuts fact with fiction and is a travel story that is not to be sniffed at.
3 and a half stars out of 5
Credit: Banner photo by Erik Cleves Kristensen