Enlightenment? It's just around the bend
Paul Pickering - The Daily Express (5 stars)

When a writer, or indeed any artist, starts to bang on about a pet subject, most of us usually feel a yawn coming on and start to sniff the cocoa. John Tavolta's sublimely awful Scientology-inspired Battlefield Earth is a warning to us all.

But here is a novel about Buddhism that is as compulsive as Pringles. Even if you are totally turned off by religion, this book flies along. It irresistibly nabs you on the first page and marches you along the road to amused enlightenment.

Edward Canfor-Dumas is a scriptwriter with credits ranging from Kavanagh QC to The Bill, and he creates totally believable characters in a flick or two of the pen.

Everything is going wrong in Ed's life. Dumped by his girlfriend Angie, he is in a horrible job with a horrible boss on an internet magazine teetering on the brink of closure. He meets Geoff on a lunchtime drink in a pub.

A beer-drinking, roll-up smoking 53-year-old with a slight pot belly, Geoff is not how Ed pictured a Buddhist. Especially when Geoff gets Ed to help him unblock the pub lavatory, his new friend up to his elbow in humanity's waste products and talking all the time of the way up.

'Geoff ploughed on. "There's a bloke I know, an undertaker, who's in this special team that jets off whenever there's a plane crash somewhere. It's his job to recover the dead bodies and body parts, identify them, and then return them to the relatives so they can give them a decent funeral. Now, that's a pretty bloody gruesome job as far as I'm concerned, much worse than sticking my arm down some blocked pipe. But this bloke sees it as a privilege. The giref, the tragedy, cuts him up, sure. But he knows the fact that someone cares enough to do that job brings incredible comfort to the relatives."'

Problems are just facts, says Geoff. It's our attitude towards them that makes us suffer or not. The strong actually go out seeking challenges. More dragons to fight. More damsels to rescue.

This infuriates Ed. But slowly he finds himself seduced, as is the reader, by the clarity and simplicity of the idea.

This book reminds me most of Robert M Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and it has the same, often hilarious, mixture of the transcendental and the grubby.

At first Ed fights Geoff's suggestions tooth and claw. But slowly it dawns on Ed that he can succeed in his everyday world without it becoming a 'religion'. (Which is probably why Buddhism is the fastest-growing religion in the world.) Geoff can show Ed a way out. So why is Ed still depressed?

'It's your life state, mate. I told you the second time I met you: if your life condition's low all this negative stuff just appears, like the rocks at low tide. They're always there, but when the tide's in - when your life condition is high - they disappear. You literally rise above it all...'

Ed meets Dora of Personal Personnel, an employment agency, who sets his life goals in order. No longer is Ed blocked like the pub's pipes at the beginning of the novel. He is able to embark on a new career and existence in general.

Ed's fresh enthusiasm carries you away but the grinning Buddha is never allowed to get in the way - which is what makes this novel so involving.

The Buddha, Geoff and Me is rooted in the real lives of ordinary people and - just when you think everything in the garden is too rosy - a twist at the end brings you up sharply. I was astonished by this book. It has that strange, casual energy of an unpredicted bestseller; probably as karmic repayment for all those episodes of The Bill.