Brazzaville Beach is a tremendous novel.
Right from the beginning it has the feel of something rather unusual and for me there was a definite double-take moment when I realised I’d found my place.
It’s centred around 2 main aspects of Hope Clearwater’s life, her time with her husband in the UK and her time without in Africa.
The drive of the plot centres around Hope’s work observing chimpanzees in the world’s leading scientific project on the subject of the animals. She’s cottoned on to the fact that strange things are happening within her community of chimps that have taken themselves away from the main group. The chimps from the north are sending patrols into the southern territories and this is the cause for a lot of interest. Unfortunately for her, the more she finds out, the more she realises that her discoveries are contrary to the theories of her eminent bosses and it seems that they’ll go to any length to suppress her findings.
Weaving in and out of this African scene is her background and her relationship with her very driven husband who is a gifted mathematician. He’s obsessed by seeing things in different ways and interprets things with numbers and visual patterns. It’s a background that helps to explain Hope’s current situation and thinking, while providing a hugely interesting story in itself.
There’s plenty of what I’ve come to expect from William Boyd in here:
It’s quite addictive, which is quite often the case for me when reading his books.
There’s the wonderful detail in the characters and settings and he’s a bit like Hope’s husband in the way he can present what is commonplace in new ways that make it a pleasure to get to know people and place.
There are the asides that show a tremendous knowledge in a vast range of areas (or at least they seem to) that are interesting in themselves, but are also very relevant and helpful as part of a gentle analysis.
There’s the African setting, clearly understood and alive with the exotic.
I loved it. I feel like I’ve had a good workout and a huge amount of entertainment.
The sad thing is, I was reading a signed, hard-back, 1990 first edition and it’s borrowed from a friend. I’d so like to keep it on my shelves and have considered a few ways of explaining its loss (the cat ate it and the like), but it never worked on my teachers and I don’t suppose my conscience could take it these days.
A super story that you should check out.