Malibu Rising – The Story of An Ordinary Paradise

Malibu Rising is the story of hugely successful singing star, Mick Riva, and the family he abandons. Following the death of their mother, oldest sister, Nina, steps in and looks after her siblings. We follow Riva family history, from 1956 when hopeful singer Mick, meets a pretty girl called June on a Malibu beach, through to a fateful night in 1983 when the now adult Riva siblings throw a chaotic party in Nina’s Malibu house.

Malibu Rising is about family patterns playing out from one generation to another – and efforts, usually self-defeating, that people make to escape those patterns. This theme is handled with some subtlety. There is also reflection on the idea that ambitions aspiring to supposedly perfect lives, often just recreate flashier versions of former, ordinary lives. I enjoyed the descriptions of Malibu in this regard. Malibu has a reputation as a paradise for millionaires. It is actually a place to live like any other, where it pays to have comprehensive home insurance against natural disaster.

More difficult is the way the story is told. There is no central narrator. We see things from multiple points of view. Once the party starts in the book’s second half, virtually everyone coming in the door gets their few paragraphs. This was confusing and made it difficult to stay engaged. Sometimes we also get a strange author voice butting in, saying things like “there were twenty five people in the living room, not that anyone was counting”.

I didn’t know what to make of this. Was the author reflecting on how each individual is an author of their own story, while a bigger, fateful author appears to push the plot in its own direction? Well maybe. I think this book does have literary ambitions, even if it as written as a kind of soap opera. But the point of view thing was still potentially confusing and did not help involvement with the story.

Overall Malibu Rising was an interesting novel thematically, though perhaps not the most engaging read.

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