Disjointed tale of a young woman scientist whose observations of chimpanzees in the wild conflict with her mentor's established theories, interspersed with the tale of her marriage to an increasingly unstable mathematician.
I loved Boyd's Any Human Heart, enjoyed An Ice-Cream War (after a slightly slower start), and looked forward to savoring Brazzaville Beach - which fell into the "enjoyable enough" category, but didn't quite live up to the reputation Boyd had established with me!
The First person-Third Person back and forth narrative was a tad contrived in its execution; unfortunately, neither the prologue that warned the reader this was upcoming, nor the context of the story as it unfolds, failed to justify this somewhat disjointed flip-flopping of time and narrative voice. Ultimately, it didn't bother me too much in the reading - in fact, I did become engaged in the parallel story of the emotional rise and fall of Hope Clearwater's once-brilliant, mathemetician husband. And, if I felt like expending the energy to think literarily, I'm sure interesting analogies could be drawn between the England-side story and the AFrica-chimpanzee story (but unfortunately Boyd's crafting doesn't inspire that effort as well as I suspect he could have).
But I read good fiction, in all honesty, to be moved, absorbed or - yes - entertained, at some level. The "fine writing" or "literary cleverness" part can't interfere with my being grabbed. I realize Boyd failed, for me, in most part because I never believed in Hope as a credible female character. She was neither a real human woman, nor a fantasy super-female heroine, but lay nebulously somewhere in between. The only vividly real and intriguing character was Hope's husband. I'm left to conclude that Boyd just doesn't show his best with female protagonists, and fortunately, he went on to write more compellingly about men in the afore-mentioned novels.
Nevertheless, I am glad I read Brazzaville Beach - it is entertaining and interesting enough - I'm merely judging the author by his later work. Anyone who wants to round out their 'Boyd experience' would enjoy adding this to the mix! If it's the first book you read, be sure not to miss Any Human Heart!
Young, alone and far from her family in England, primate researcher Hope Clearwater contemplates the extraordinary events that left her washed up like driftwood on Brazzaville Beach. It is here, on the distant, lonely outskirts of Africa, where she must come to terms with the perplexing circumstances of her recent past. For Hope is a survivor of the devastating cruelties of apes and of men alike. And to move forward, she must first grasp hard and elusive truths--about marriage and madness, about the greed and savagery of charlatan science...and about what compels seemingly benign creatures to kill for pleasure alone.
"At once mythic and provocative...a novel of ideas, of big themes...William Boyd is a champion storyteller." The New York Times Book Review
"Breathtaking...rich in action and thought...Boyd is a daring craftsman, a writer who allows the scope of his work to expand to the point of bursting." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"What an engaging yet intellectually challenging novel this is...a bang-up adventure with substantial phrenic heft." People
"Remarkable...a bravura tale...'Brazzaville Beach' stands out like a clipper ship in a harbor full of dinghies." Atlanta Journal and Constitution
"A tour de force..daring...riveting...an altogether splendid entertainment." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A gripping story told with a calm, austere beauty, as though in the aftermath of a tropical storm."
Disquieting, intelligent, imaginative tale excellently told. I will read more William Boyd.
Okay, but I got bogged down in all the mathematical equations and theorems. I'm always interested in chimpanzee studies, but too much time was spend on her personal life.