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Brazzaville Beach ()

Granta Best British Novelists (1983)

Hope Clearwater sits on Brazzaville Beach, contemplates her past, and narrates the events of this novel.  One strain of the story concerns her failed marriage to a mathematician whose unquenched thirst for revolutionary discoveries and their attendant fame drove him to madness.  The second strain concerns the animal research that Hope had fled to Africa to participate in.   Grosso Arvore Research Center is run by the renowned chimpanzee expert Eugene Mallabar, who was just putting the finishing touches on his master work, describing the peaceful ways of our close animal relatives, when Hope's own observations seemed to indicate that all was not quite as idyllic as had previously been supposed among these primates.  But the evidence of aggression that she finds between two competing colonies of chimps threatens the carefully constructed image that Mallabar has built up over the years, and, most importantly, threatens to make the animals less attractive to charitable organizations which fund the project.  Meanwhile, thrumming in the background is a guerilla war which threatens to swamp this African nation at any moment.

William Boyd takes these various threads and weaves them together, along with a variety of brief comments on scientific and mathematical ideas and issues, into an exciting and intellectually  compelling novel.  With its Edenic setting and themes of Man's search for knowledge--and the madness the search can bring--the book taps into our primordial myths and some of the core questions of our existence.  If it sometimes seems to be almost too consciously striving to be a serious novel of ideas, that ambition is justified, if not always realized, and the philosophical failures are more than offset by the good old-fashioned African adventure story that unfolds simultaneously.

The shelves fairly groan beneath the weight of books warning that when a little of the veneer of civilization gets stripped away in the jungle, Man must face the fact that he has a dark heart.  And there are elements of that here, particularly in the way that Mallabar treats Hope and her discovery, but Boyd has much more to say besides just this.  Perhaps the most exciting message of the book lies in the contrarian stance it takes to the modern age's tendency to romanticize Nature.   It is always well to recall Tennyson's famous description of Nature as "red in tooth and claw."  The reader of this book will not soon forget it.


Grade: (A)


William Boyd Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: William Boyd
    -ESSAY: Secrets of Nabokov’s Teapot (William Boyd, September 2023, Literary Review)
    -ESSAY: John Buchan’s clubland heroes: In The Thirty-Nine Steps and his other yarns – with their decent chaps in scrapes and men on the run – John Buchan invented the modern spy novel. (WILLIAM BOYD, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Evelyn Waugh’s sincerest form of flattery: He had a major but unsung inspiration: the now-neglected novelist William Gerhardie (William Boyd, July 24, 2022, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Any Human Heart by William Boyd (Brooke Allen, The Atlantic Monthly)

Book-related and General Links:
Recommended books by William Boyd :
    -A Good Man in Africa (1982)
    -An Ice Cream War (1983)

    -FEATURED AUTHOR : William Boyd (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : Seeking Answers Down in the Trenches (Wiliam Boyd, November 19, 2000, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Less is more (William Boyd,  26 July 1999, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : Millennium Reputations : Ernest Hemingway (William Boyd, 17 July 1999, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Underworld by Don DeLillo (William Boyd, The Observer )
    -REVIEW : of THE RACE TO FASHODA European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa. By David Levering  Lewis  (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of CELEBRATION By Mary Lee Settle  (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE SECRET PILGRIM By John le Carre  (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE ESSENTIAL GESTURE Writing, Politics and Places. By Nadine Gordimer (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of STRANGE PILGRIMS Twelve Stories. By Gabriel Garcia Marquez (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SACRIFICE OF ISAAC By Neil Gordon (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE By Ryszard Kapuscinski. Translated by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SHOW BUSINESS By Shashi Tharoor (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HIMMELFARB By Michael Kruger. Translated by Leslie Willson (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of LOVING GRAHAM GREENE By Gloria Emerson (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  MY MOVIE BUSINESS A Memoir. By John Irving (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  ONCE UPON THE RIVER LOVE By Andrei Makine (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  SECRETS  And Other Stories. By Bernard MacLaverty (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SCENES FROM PROVINCIAL LIFE by William Cooper  (William Boyd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Double Game by Sophie Calle (William Boyd, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Last King of Scotland  by Giles Foden (William Boyd, Literary Review)
    -INTERVIEW : New Territory for Explorer in Fiction (Eleanor Blau, May 21, 1983, NY Times)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW:  William Boyd on his latest novel,  Armadillo (CBC Infoculture)
    -ESSAY : Imagining Imaginary Artists (Paul Mattick, June 14, 1998, NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES : "william boyd" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : "william boyd" (booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of  BRAZZAVILLE BEACH By William Boyd  (Blanche d'Alpuget, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Oct 10, 1991 Thomas R. Edwards: Good Intentions, NY Review of Books
       Mating by Norman Rush
       Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
    -REVIEW : of A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA. By William Boyd (1982)  (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA By William Boyd (Mona Simpson, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of AN ICE CREAM WAR By William Boyd (1983) (Michael Gorra, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of ON THE YANKEE STATION By William Boyd (1984) (Bernard McCabe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of STARS AND BARS By William Boyd (1985) ( Caroline Seebohm, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE BLUE AFTERNOON By William Boyd (1995) (Thomas Keneally, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of School Ties (1986) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The New Confessions By William Boyd (1988) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE DESTINY OF NATHALIE X AND OTHER STORIES By William Boyd (1997) (Michael Upchurch, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  The Destiny of Natalie X by William Boyd (Bert Patterson, Boston Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of ARMADILLO By William Boyd (1998) (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo By William Boyd (A. O. Scott, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo by William Boyd  (Caroline Moore,  Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo by William Boyd  (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of  Armadillo By William Boyd (Andrew Biswell, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo by William Boyd  (ELIZABETH GLEICK , TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo by William Boyd  (Michael Jacobs, USA TODAY )
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo by William Boyd  (Nell Beram, Boston Review of Books )
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo by William Boyd  (Gina Arnold, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of "Armadillo" by William Boyd (Mark Lindquist, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of Armadillo (ROGER MILLER, Book Page)
    -BOOK LIST : Rockets' red glare : The author of "Dog Soldiers" picks five great contemporary war novels : An Ice Cream War (Robert Stone, Salon)
    -Granta's 20 Best British Novelists, 1983

    -FILMOGRAPHY : William Boyd (Imdb)
    -REVIEW : Harvey Thompson reviews The Trench, directed by William Boyd (World Socialist Web Site)