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Brazzaville Beach Paperback – August 1, 1995
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
After leaving her estranged husband, a British woman moves to a beach on the coast of Africa to study chimpanzees, only to discover cruel similarities between man and ape.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“Utterly engaging. . . . A novel of ideas, of big themes. . . . William Boyd is a champion storyteller.” (The New York Times Book Review)
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I assume the ethological parts of the story are accurate. If not, the book drops dead.
The research station, unfortunately, is based in a country torn by civil war, which is not good for the funding and staffing of science. A little manipulation of results can sometimes overcome obstacles.
In her previous life, Hope had a chaotic marriage with a chaos mathematician. Worst possible ending to the marriage. Africa was a refuge. The two story lines are interlaced.
The recollections of a dysfunctional marriage as seen by the woman and written by a man don't work too well for me. It is written as a third person narrative, but with Hope in focus. Her thoughts and observations about her husband and his work are not plausible. Neither she nor he are interesting people in these chapters, and their relationship is a perfect bore, enriched by some not very needed name and term dropping about mathematics.
The Africa story keeps my interest, though not without struggle. I am generally not happy with the language, which seems to dumb down the heroine. Actually, there are two stories about Africa. Apart from her chimp job, Hope has a love life with a mercenary pilot in the provincial capital, a few hours away. That story is as boring as her marriage. Maybe I am prejudiced, but it seems to me that Boyd fails at writing credible or even interesting sex scenes from a woman's perspective.
A rather simplistic thriller with pretensions. Simplistic despite the complex interweaving of several story lines. Rather too surface smart for my taste. The language rather too smooth for its users. Hope doesn't strike me as the person who would speak or write the way Boyd lets her. Not in her first person narrative about the chimp research and her love life, nor in the 3rd person observations about her failed marriage. It is wrong, most of it.
I am sure this could have been a better novel if written by Paul Theroux. The subject would be a fit. Theroux, when he was good, could write better than this.
It takes place primarily in the continent of Boyd's birth, Africa (he was raised in Ghana), but in an unnamed country loosely modeled on Angola and Mozambique. Civil wars are raging, with the federal government fighting factions, and guerilla warfare ongoing. You don't need to even know exactly where it takes place, or when. He doesn't tell us.
Hope Clearwater is the feisty heroine, a young PhD in plant and animal ethology who was married to an obsessive mathematician, until she wasn't. Right now, as the story opens, she is living on Brazzaville Beach in Africa, narrating the events that led to where she is now, and taking stock of her life. Over the course of the book, Hope shares the events and casualties that led to her living alone on this beach.
Her most recent post was at the Grosso Avore Research Center, with the established and respected scholar, Eugene Mallobar, a PhD and author of several books on primates, who has studied them for 30 years. Although Hope had no experience in working with chimpanzees, she works diligently, with regard and respect. She makes a daily rendezvous to study them in the wild. Her assignment is to observe and track the movements of a southern faction of apes that broke off from the northerners.
Hope makes a harrowing discovery about the two groups of chimps--the northerners and the southerner group that split off. When she shares it with Mallobar, he becomes threatened (he also has a new research book coming out). He tries to deny the accuracy of Hope's observation skills. The civil wars both overshadow and parallel the events at the Grosso Arvore Research Center, the chimps, and the behavior of some of the scientists.
Each new titled section or chapter of the novel begins in italics, often presenting the various divergence and chaos theories of her ex-husband's research, and giving room for the reader to tie in concepts of uncertainty in Hope's existence. There are parallels to dominion and sex, aggression, and the need to find clear and determined answers.
During her marital separation, Hope worked on an ancient English estate, dating and describing hedgerows, with detailed specific answers available for her to ponder. However, when her estranged husband comes to visit, her life feels in flux again. He barrages her with his anxiety and failed research attempts.
There are a lot of trajectories to this book, including Hope's relationship with a Mig 15 mercenary pilot, an Egyptian named Usman Shoukry, who meticulously constructs (for his amusement) tiny, detailed airplanes made out of tissue and attached to horseflies. Hope sees Usman when she makes provision runs for the reserve.
Admittedly, I haven't unraveled every thread of this book sufficiently to articulate a review with any authority. It is a book to cogitate on, closely, and possibly from an aerial distance. The chimps' DNA is only a fraction off from humans; they act human sometimes. People act like apes periodically. At the center is Hope, twining the different narrative threads, keeping the reader suspended in the turbulent whirlpool of humanity.