Tripping over himself

2010-04-28 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Ayahuasca Diaries

Caspar Greeff

Jacana

WHAT goes on in a person’s head isn’t generally obvious, even to the person concerned. When it’s the product of a concoction of psychoactive drugs, the likelihood of keeping pace is remote, as just about any writing on the subject apart from Aldous Huxley and Thomas de Quincey proves. The main difficulty most such writing faces, and this applies even to cult heroes of the genre such as Hunter S. Thompson, is that it tends to be so obsessively self-indulgent that one wonders why one would be interested in the colours someone else sees in their head. Ah yes, there must be a reason, generally provided by a search for spiritual truth. Drop some acid, pop some peyote, and hey presto, all is ­revealed.

This is what the Ayahuasca ­Diaries are supposed to be about, in which Caspar Greeff, a South ­African journalist, takes a drug tour of South America to sample psychedelic brews of Ayahuasca in the company of an assortment of shamans and conmen and seekers from around the world. The reader is promised a vibrant, brilliant travelogue. What I got instead was a chaotic assemblage of episodes, identical except for the names, in which the author does the equivalent of a pub crawl. These diaries started life as a series of newspaper blogs, and would have been helped by an edit and narrative direction. Greeff styles himself as a rugged journo type, which of course he is. Obligatory to the persona is the pretence of not appearing to be taken in when one is, and vice versa. The result is half-baked irony mixed with moments of devotional credulity which makes it difficult to know when to take him seriously. The pursuit of spiritual awareness is by turns exaggerated and trivialised, and the insights that travel brings of the ways of others are clouded by the chaotic slapping together of facts that are supported by nothing but the writer’s apparently limitless energy.

There was a promise early on of an interesting tale, because Greeff takes his father along with him to see what the high road is like. But all that happens is that the old man doesn’t like drugs and goes home. At least he tried.

And so did Greeff. There are moments when the writing shows what might have been, and Greeff finds a voice yearning to be elegant and true rather than bluff and cool. But you’ve got to wade through a lot of guff to find it.

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