Monday, 4 June 2012

There's none like us ...

In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller relays the story of her mother or 'Nicola Fuller of Central Africa' as she sometimes refers to herself.  Born on the Isle of Skye, Nicola Fuller moved to Kenya with her parents at the age of two.  Having lived in Africa pretty much all of her life she still considers herself 'one million per cent Scottish.'  She spends her Kenyan childhood show-jumping, attending convent school and playing with her pet chimpanzee.  She has unhappy stint at a secretarial college for young ladies in Kensington and then returns to the longed for equatorial light of Kenya.

Disembarking from the plane at Nairobi with newly blonde hair and wearing a blue linen suit she is spotted by the young Tim Fuller recently arrived in East Africa to work on a tree farm.  He falls in love with her and as a handsome couple 'there's none like us' they settle in Kenya and later manage a farm in Rhodesia. Alexandra Fuller intersperses the story of her parents with her own memories of a Rhodesian childhood, her mother driving her daughters to a fancy dress party in the land rover, checking her hair and lipstick in the rear-view mirror and positioning her gun out of the window.  Fuller writes beautifully of the 'sepia light' of Kenya and the wind 'red with dust' blowing from Uganda.

But this book is not just a story of Africa, it's the story of her mother who lived through the terrible violence of Rhodesia's struggle for independence and buried three babies on African soil.  Yet she retains a wonderful Nancy Mitford style humour.  When she sees predatory rich European women seeking sexual favours from young men she asks 'Why can't they just go to bed with a good book?'
This is no tale of the glamorous and foolish Happy Valley set.  Fuller's parents lived and worked on the land and still continue to run a fish and banana farm in the Zambezi valley today.

As a young woman Nicola Fuller hoped to inspire a classic African memoir such as West with the Night, The Flame Trees of Thikka or Out of Africa.  I'd say she has.


Bellezza said...

It sounds a fascinating novel, and for some reason, puts me in mind of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. Perhaps because of the exotic setting so different from mine in America. Which is one of the reasons I love reading, and reading reviews, so much. Thanks for exposing this novel to me, Nicola.

p.s. Was it weird reading a book with a character of the same name?

Bonnie said...

I have picked up this book several times. Now I am wishing I had walked straight the cash register. I just recently posted on "West with the Night" which became one of my favorite books. Thanks for the review. Bonnie

Sunday Taylor said...

Oh I am so glad you reviewed this. I read her other book "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" and really enjoyed it. I will now read this one. Thanks for letting us know.

Aarti said...

Ooh, I have Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, but haven't read it yet. I hope it's as good as this one :-)

I am a little upset that even though she spent her whole life in Kenya, she still considers herself fully Scottish. Why? What makes her more Scottish than Kenyan?

Anbolyn said...

I've always heard good things about Fuller's books, but wasn't sure if they were 'for me'. Now I think they might be - this one sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I haven't tried a Fuller book yet, but you've really tempted me with this one. Great review, thank you!

lifeonthecutoff said...

I am so excited to have read your review of this and there it goes, onto my TBR list, in bright red. Out of Africa and The Flame Trees of Thika have long been favorites of mine - I'm sure this will take its rightful place among them.

Shelley said...

That's a great quote about the book! Their capacity to comfort is greatly underestimated in our current culture.

Cathy at PotterJotter said...

Sounds like another one I would enjoy - I love a bit of incisive wit! BTW - have nominated you for an award (if you want!).xCathy

Aparatchick said...

I'm glad to read such a positive review.

I really enjoy Fuller's writing which can be lyrical, sharp, or funny, but is always honest. "Cocktail" covers some of the same ground as "Don't Let's" but from a different perspective. Both are definitely worth reading.

Ps... Aarti - it's even better.

Vintage Reading said...

Bellezza, hi. Yes, I was born in the sixties when the name Nicola began to become popular. Odd to read about a character older than me with the same name!

Vintage Reading said...

Bonnie, I'm reading West with the Night at the moment. I'm going to check out your post.

Sunday, I've just read the first book, very stark and powerful. The second book is warmer and softer I think.

Aarti, yes the Scottish thing is interesting, a powerful attachment to place of birth I suppose.

Anbolyn, like you I read novels more than non-fic but this was a nice change.

penandpencilgirls, hope you enjoy it, do post a review!

lifeonthecuff, I'm reading West with the Night right now. It moves at such a pace I can hardly keep up!

Shelley, yup, wish I could get my daughters to read more. Seem to be so many distractions now.

Cathy, thank-you! Checking it out as I write!

Aparatchick, I agree, second volume better than first!