By Stuart Nulman – Montreal Times
Veteran Montreal comedian Lorne Elliott has proven with his previous novel Beach Reading that he can certainly knit a good yarn of a story.
However, with his newest novel The Goat in the Tree, Elliott has shown that he can tell a story within a story.
The protagonist of the book is Max, a vagabond tourist who tramps his way through Morocco with his trusty satchel, limited financial means, and armed with an ability to talk his way through anything to make his journey a much easier experience, especially when it comes to using a hotel’s facilities (and its pool) without ever having to be a registered guest.
Somehow, Max’s gift of the conniving gab lands him as an accidental tourist guide on a charter bus tour to Marrakech. How does he “earn his keep” on this ride? By his incredible ability to weave a creative Aesop-type of fable that captures the imagination of the bus’ passengers.
Max’s wildly creative storytelling abilities is his ticket to enjoying the exotic world of Marrakech, and establishes a solid reputation as a top notch storyteller, especially in the Djemma market area, and with the people there. He even lands himself a girlfriend, and in a bit of trouble with a rather shady character whom he refers to as “Orange Man”, because the colour of his skin resembles a hue of orange. And even when he lands a steady gig as a musician/storyteller in a Paris café, Max just can’t shrug off the allure of Marrakech, and the popularity he enjoyed there as a revered storyteller.
There are two things that I enjoyed when I read The Goat in the Tree. First, is Elliott’s vivid descriptions of the two places where the novel takes place. We get such a detailed look at the exotic charms of Morocco and the gritty world of Paris cafes, that it feels like the reader transcends the pages to find themselves actually enjoying an overpriced coffee near a Marrakech souk, or spending a few hours in a dingy French café. If Elliott decides to branch out as a travel writer, he certainly gave himself a lot of good practice within the pages of this novel.
Second, thanks to his talents as a stand-up comic, Elliott’s stories within the structure of the novel’s narrative are imaginative, creative and could easily end up in a collection of original bedtime stories that you could read to your kids at night, even when they are in the formation stages in the middle of a Moroccan public square in front of a live audience. The stories that deal with the paper folder of Japan, the tragic Minister of Literacy, the dark secret of a donkey trader, and of a man, a mouse, some grain and a lot of gold coins are highlights from the yarns spun by a master storyteller.
A likeable character with a special talent, an exotic locale, some interesting offbeat secondary characters, and the successful weaving of creative tales are the elements that make The Goat in the Tree an original, entertaining reading experience of a road trip.
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now
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