Heliopolis – James Scudamore

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Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

For the third time this year the Booker long list has produced an amazing book that I would otherwise have missed.

Heliopolis is set in a futuristic Sao Paulo and follows Ludo, who was born in a shanty town, but then given great wealth after being adopted by one of the richest men in the city. Ludo then falls in love with his adoptive sister, Melissa, which leads to a clever, humorous plot, as he tries to deal with his conflicting emotions.

I have a recurring nightmare in which Melissa probes around in my belly button with one of the sharp metal skewers my mother used for weekend barbecues. She stares intently into my navel, manipulating the skewer, and I feel its cold metal point enter my stomach. Eventually, she achieves her objective, and unknots my umbilical cord. My intestines gush to the floor like a string of raw sausages.

The main issue the book covers is the social divide between those living in complete poverty, and the elite who can afford everything. Heliopolis is cleverly written to show the difficulty Ludo feels in belonging to his new, rich world.

Loneliness should be hard to come by in the forest, but the white noise of animals getting on with their business was never a consolation. It only reminded me how sure most living things were of their place in the world, while I was not.

Although the squalor is vivid, the poor are described in a dignified way. The result is that I had great empathy for the under-class and at many times felt they had the better life.

This book has everything: humour, great characters, clever plot, a moral message and a wonderful ending. It gripped me throughout.

Highly recommended.


Did you love this book as much as I did?

Have you read his previous book The Amnesia Clinic?

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  1. Claire says:

    Yes, I loved this book as much as you did! I loved the South American Magic Realism aspect with every chapter heading and motif based around food. It was very clever and I look forward both to The Amnesia Clinic and his future work (apparently the one he is working on just not is about London, but not quite London proper and instead the London that is thought to no longer exist but does… intriguing, no?!)

    1. Jackie says:


      I plan to find a copy of The Amnesia Clinic soon. I hope it is as good as this one.

      1. Claire says:

        I possibly didn’t explain it succinctly enough but I suspect that he means a London from the past; Victorian London, maybe? With its crime and squalor…

        1. Jackie says:

          I understand now! I think!! I’m sure it will be good – whatever it is!

  2. Steph says:

    This one sounds fantastic, but it doesn’t look like it’s been released on this side of the pond yet. :( I guess I’ll have to wait a while before I can give it a shot!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sorry to hear it hasn’t been released yet. I hope it comes out soon.

  3. Eva says:

    Depite being completely nauseated by that excerpt about his recurring dream, I still think sounds really neat! I’ll definitely put it on the TBR list when it releases here. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sorry my quote made you feel ill! I just loved his imagination – very different to anything I could come up with!

  4. Sandy says:

    Well, that stinks that you can’t get it over here. I want to compliment you on one fabulous and very succinct review. I wish some of that would rub off on me!

    1. Jackie says:

      Thank you!

      I do love your reviews though. I’m not sure I’d want you to get any briefer.

  5. Wow, I can’t believe how fast you’re plowing through the Booker Long List! Way to go!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m nearly finished now – next week I’ll be able to read some of my own choices. I wonder if they will be as good as the Booker list?

  6. Beth F says:

    The first comment by Claire mentioned “South American Magic Realism” and so I’m not sure about this book. I always seem to have problems with that genre. I’ll have to think about this one a bit more.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth – I’m not a big fan of magical realism either. Don’t worry it is just the title of each chapter – it doesn’t impact of the very real story being told.

    2. Claire says:

      Yes, Beth, don’t let my comment put you off: it was just the chapter headings and the focus on food that reminded me of MR but obviously the genre doesn’t have a monopoly on food in literature! Although absurd, Heliopolis isn’t magical realism itself but also borrows from surrealism (think Murakami), as well as other literature – definitely a hybrid and difficult to pigeon-hole!

      1. Beth F says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I’ll reconsider this, but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up too soon (my TBR is out of control).

  7. Suko says:

    Terrific review, succinct and enticing! It sounds like an introspective book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Suko, I’m pleased you liked my review – it is a really good book, so I hope you enjoy it if you do decide to give it a try.

  8. Simon S says:

    I liked this book, The Converted One loved it, he did tell me to say that he thinks its very much the Sao Paulo of ‘now’ as a Brazilian and having lived there and its just as it was in the book which he was kindly sent a while back, and I then nabbed. I guess in Feb I will be able to give my view. I thought it was a thought provoking book that was glad I read, not in my shortlist though, well not quite!

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, The pooer sections seem to reflect South America as it is now, but are the rich using helicopters to that extent?

      It is in my Booker short list, but I’m not sure it will make the actual short list. I have one more book to go – this one is hovering in the 6th/7th position, so the strength of Summertime will determine whether this makes it onto my predictive list. I have a feeling it will just miss out.


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