Into the Heart of Borneo is a classically shaped travel story: a long river voyage into the interior of a tropical jungle toward an unexplored mountain range. Accompanied by poet James Fenton and 22 SAS officers, and setting out with the blessing of Harvard, Oxford and the British Museum, the two-man expedition reached, much to their surprise, the very center of Borneo, an area not visited since 1926.
"Ye Gods, old man--don't do it!" you're bound to shriek on page 1 of this hilarious travelogue, on which the author lists the hazards that may befall him--vipers, cholera, crocs, ticks, tuberculosis, malaria, rabies, and 1,700 types of parasitic worms among them. After all, portly, over-the-hill London Times
literary reviewer Redmond O'Hanlon hasn't done anything more aerobic than flip the pages of a book for decades; he wasn't even a Boy Scout. It's hardly reassuring that his colleague, poet James Fenton--who had the big idea to trek in Borneo--was a Boy Scout. He hated it, and besides, aged, balding Fenton, whom O'Hanlon describes as rather worm-like, sounds like he's a likely lunch for a swooping black eagle.
But on they trod--with the much-needed help of three Iban natives and an unseen, though oft-quoted river god--through jungle, across rivers whose height may rise seven feet overnight, and via native villages (where they often have late-night parties), with one goal in mind: seeing the fabled Borneo rhino. Fenton is nearly swept away in a whirlpool, they subsist on jungle-worm gruel, and ripping off sucking leeches is a near-daily occurrence, but cultural and natural insights and adventures abound in this rip-roaringly funny and deftly written travelogue that will have you chortling out loud. --Melissa Rossi