Brazzaville Beach (Anglais) Broché – 1 août 1995
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Description du produit
Revue de presse
Présentation de l'éditeur
“Utterly engaging….A novel of ideas, of big themes….William Boyd is a champion storyteller.” - New York Times Book Review
William Boyd’s classic Brazzaville Beach has been called as a “bold seamless blend of philosophy and suspense… [that] nevertheless remains accessible to general readers on a level of pure entertainment.” (Boston Globe). Released to coincide with Boyd’s latest novel, Ordinary Thunderstorms, Brazzaville Beach tells the story of a British primate-researcher who relocates to war-torn Africa in the wake of her husband’s tragic descent into mental illness. Intense, exhilarating, and engrossing, Brazzaville Beach is “rich in action and thought,” and William Boyd “a writer who allows the scope of his work to expand to the point of bursting.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
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Scientists compete fiercely for funding (labs, assistants, computer time, travel). The best become patrons with vast networks. The spoils of success are immense: wealth and power, winning prestigious prizes and best of all, your seminal discovery named after you, forever. This novel is a dramatic account of three practitioners with different ambitions and objectives and their interaction with ethical & methodological challenges and plain fraud. Who is the third? It is Eugene Mallabar, founder of a two decades-long programme studying chimpanzees in the wild in a nation under civil war and whose lifework is about to appear.
This reader has reached the halfway point, having written more notes than usual, and the plot thickens again after plenty of innuendo before… “Brazzaville Beach” has great depth re science and philosophy and is brilliantly plotted, -paced and increasingly thrilling. William Boyd’s familiarity with Africa shows in his descriptions of its smells, weather, people and ecology. Great context and dialogues, too.
Will continue my read of this wonderful novel tomorrow. Highly recommended!
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If you can 'get into' this novel, it will handsomely repay your reading. I do really like another of Boyd's novels: 'A Good Man For Africa'. Whoever likes that novel will also like this one.
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.
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.
Why the longish preface about Blake? Brazzaville Beach is, to some degree, about tasting the fruits of knowledge and losing one's innocence. The main character, Hope Clearwater, will hear these words later on: "...the pursuit of knowledge is the road to hell...You think that if you know everything you can escape from the world."
There are two Hopes in this book; the long ago Hope who lived in England (written in third person) and the more current Hope, who lived within an African country (written in the immediate first person). Both Hopes are quite literally dashed as elusive and forbidden knowledge are pursued.
Here's the plot in a nutshell: Hope, a brilliant scientist in her own right, marries a mercurial and highly intellectual mathematician, who increasingly begins to go insane as he pursues an elusive game theory on turbulence. Intertwined with that story is the African Hope, who goes to work for another brilliant man named Mallabar, who is about to publish a renowned book on the peaceful chimps. Her observations belie his premise; the chimps are cannibalizing each other. Yet Mallabar will not even entertain that idea; he, too, is losing it as he holds on to the tendrils of knowledge that he has accumulated.
And Hope? Will she, too, be destroyed as she pursues knowledge or will Hope endure? That is the question that is at the core of this very clever book.
William Boyd, in my opinion, is a brilliant writer who keeps getting better and better and this is one of his earlier books (published in 1990). As an allegory, it works beautifully. There are, however, some perceived flaws.
For one thing, I never "bought" that a woman of Hope's brilliance, single-mindedness and beauty would be attracted to her husband, John Clearwater. His character is somewhat underdeveloped; certainly, the attraction is not amply explored. Admittedly, I am not a "math person", but the many explorations of game theory, turbulance, catastrophe theory, divergence syndromes and other chaos theory components sometimes left me shaking my head. They seemed just a little too clever.
Secondly, there is a long subsection about the African freedom fighters and Hope's unwilling adventure with them. As a reader, I get it: the brutish fighting among various human forces equates to the dissonance among the chimps; guerilla leaders and (a little stretch) gorilla leaders are not all that different. Yet I kept wanting the action to return to the ape colony, which (to me) was more fascinating.
Those two caveats aside, I found Brazzaville Beach to be compelling. Hope reflects about herself: "She reshaped the haphazard explicable twists turns of her life into an order that she approved of, where the controlling hand of her authorship could be read clearly, like a signature." Ultimately, she is the creator of her own destiny and her fall from Eden is preordained.