I’m lucky enough to be celebrating my 29th wedding anniversary on the beautiful island of Rhodes. Hubby and I rented a house for a week in Rhodes Old Town and we’re sitting in its private courtyard garden having just got back from swimming in the sea off Elli Beach. This has nothing to do with A Good Man in Africa but it’s important to remember days like these.
(William Boyd is one of hubby’s favourite authors and he lent me the book so I guess you could argue there’s a link after all, however tenuous.)
Boyd’s career as a writer spans almost forty years. He’s won many awards including the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2006 for Restless. A Good Man in Africa won the Whitbread First Novel Award in 1981.
The narrator is Morgan Leafy, First Secretary at the British Commission in Kinjanja, West Africa, a man ‘cast…into a scathing misanthropy’ by the ‘raw, brutal life’ of the capital, Nkonsamba. Morgan despises his boss, dislikes his colleagues, is boorish to the locals, hates the doctor for the university, a Scotsman called Murray, and lurches from one self-inflicted ‘cock-up’ to another.
Some of the more comically absurd see Morgan exposing himself to his boss’s wife while being fitted for a Santa Suit, returning a dead body to the Commission compound while dressed as Santa, and being discovered by a naked Duchess in her bathroom – yes, you guessed it, still in Father Christmas get-up.
Funny, yes, but Morgan’s misanthropy makes him difficult to like. Can you root for a man who sets out to marry his boss’s daughter not because he loves her or even likes her, but to improve his social standing? Or who sets up a prostitute in a flat and continues seeing her even when he’s dating said boss’s daughter?
Morgan is duplicitous, as is the diplomatic world he works in. So it’s fitting that the title of the novel can also be taken to mean two different things. Is Morgan a virtuous man who’s been worn down by the ‘hideously alien’ ‘dead-end place’ where he’s been posted for the last three years? Or is he simply an appropriate man to post to a ‘not-very-significant’ country?
Maybe he’s both. By the end it seems he’s almost ready to ‘do something’ to right a few wrongs. ‘And perhaps he would too…Perhaps.’ He’s thinking about it at least.
Rating: * Worth a try (but not for me)