Brian Marley is his own harshest critic. Almost forty, his life is the epitome of mediocrity, teaching English to foreigners and seeing his three-year old son on visitation days. When Brian is approached by a producer/acquaintance to appear on a British reality show, Brit Pluck, Green Hell, Two Million, where six contestants will be stranded in the jungles of Papua, New Guinea, he seizes the opportunity.
As shocking to him as the other contestants, Brian outlasts everyone, his final challenge to spend one more week alone on the island. At the end of his physical resources and his tether, sure that death awaits, Marley is filming a final message to his son when he falls from a cliff. When he wakes up, he is no longer surrounded by the fetid jungle, but safe in the well-ordered camp of the survivors of the 1958 crash of an airplane, a De Havilland Comet IV, en route to a huge Commonwealth Public Schools Jamboree. The group has been stranded in New Guinea for over fifty years awaiting rescue, their enclave hidden from surveillance by low-lying clouds. Under the leadership of Headmaster Quartermain, the colony has fared admirably, establishing a daily protocol. The only escape route from camp is a pass that leads to a swamp, but the local tribe tends to snap up strays and cannibalize them.
In this place, time stands still, out of touch with current events or the direction of English politics. It is into this half-century old mindset that Marley arrives, his memory addled by the fall, snippets of memory taken out of context and misinterpreted by his new friends. But the tepid, socially inept Marley is a different man in the able hands of Georgina Harcourt, who takes him under her wing, prompting his recollections. Released from his stultifying past, an uninhibited Brian basks in newfound masculinity, reluctant to release his recent history. Eventually remembering, Brian is lacerated by the truth of his reality, "his poverty, his non-status, his endless failures, his entire lack of charisma and drive, his pathetic attempts at parenthood, his useless car."
Hawes takes a satirical approach to this "everyman" thrust into the spotlight, a newcomer in a colony that has lived by their wits awaiting rescue, their society bound by the rigid control of a leader who has resorted to unorthodox means to ensure the safety of his charges. This insular society has lived on the erroneous suppositions of a country on the brink of world war and advancing Communism, shocked to discover the changes wrought in their absence. Not to worry, after the rescue everyone is a star, Headmaster Quartermain readily accepted into a world in dire need of his extraordinary vision.
Meanwhile, Marley grapples with the sponsors of the reality show for the money he believes he has won, agents wheel and deal for book and movie rights and Brian is a magnet for anyone who has ever known him, however peripherally. The great PR machine is in motion, grinding out images and interviews, spinning fictions. Caught in the middle, Marley is a catalyst for the greatest news story in years, but soon relegated to his former ineptitude, a bumbling fool who grabbed an opportunity for wealth and his fifteen minutes of fame, only to question which reality is really the nightmarish jungle. Luan Gaines/2005.