This is my first Fiona Higgins novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What you think is going to be a pleasant journey of self-discovery and facing of fears for one group of Bali tourists, turns out to be a whole lot more than that.
Six strangers travel to the tropical lushness of Bali to participate in the Fearless retreat. It is a course designed to help participants face their fears. The members are as culturally diverse as the terrors they have come to address.
We meet Australian, Janelle whose fear is flying but really she’s simply lost in her own mundane life. American, Annie is alone after her husband died and has lived the past years in Bali rescuing and nurturing their neglected dogs. Her fear is snakes after her husband was killed from a fatal strike. Henry is an English bird lover and has travelled to Bali to spot the exotic and rare Bali Starling. He stumbles across the retreat and agrees to join. Then there is Frenchman, Remy who is afraid of heights and Italian, Lorenzo who is helping his wife fall pregnant and will do anything to make that happen. Of course, they all have colourful backgrounds and lots of baggage.
These characters are complex and deep and well-drawn and Higgins does a great job of allowing us to get to know them very well. I thought the interaction between them during the retreat and their development was enough for an entire book, but I was wrong. There is a traumatic event near the conclusion that I certainly couldn’t have imagined.
There are some hilarious scenes during the Fearless retreat, like the vagina spa ritual for the women and the teeth filing ceremony for the men. Add these to the passion sessions, pow-wows and intimacy workshops and there are laugh out loud moments.
Higgins has previously lived in Indonesia and her intimate knowledge of the area and its customs comes through vividly in the book.
This book was a really lovely surprise. I loved the mixed up bunch of characters and the colourful locals. It is the authenticity of the characters and setting that make this a great read.