Brazzaville Beach

Brazzaville Beach

by William Boyd

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Rarely does a novel come along that combines lyrical writing, provocative ideas, and breathtaking adventure as deftly as William Boyd's "Brazzaville Beach"; and few books in the past decade have received such overwhelming critical praise. It is the story of primate researcher Hope Clearwater, who contemplates the extraordinary events of a life that has left her washed up on a distant, lonely beach. For, in the heart of a dangerous, civil war-torn African nation, Hope made a shocking discovery about apes and man. And now she must come to terms with some hard truths about marriage and madness, the greed and savagery of charlatan science, and about what compels seemingly benign creatures to kill for pleasure alone.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380713851
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/1992
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 4.22(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

William Boyd is also the author of A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys War Prize and short-listed for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year; Ordinary Thunderstorms; and Waiting for Sunrise, among other books. He lives in London.

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Brazzaville Beach

By William Boyd

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 William Boyd
All right reserved.

Chapter One

I never really warmed to Clovis - he was far too stupid to inspire real affection - but he always claimed a corner of my heart, largely, I suppose, because of the way he instinctively and unconsciously cupped his genitals whenever he was alarmed or nervous. It was rather endearing, I thought, and it showed a natural vulnerability, in strong contrast to his usual moods: raffish arrogance or total and single-minded self-absorption. In fact, he was self-absorbed now as he sat grandly at ease, frowning, pursing and unpursing his lipscompletely ignoring me-and from time to time sniffing absentmindedly at the tip of a forefinger. He had been similarly occupied for upwards of an hour now and whatever he had stuck his finger into earlier that day had obviously been fairly potent, not to say narcotic and ineradicable. Knowing Clovis as I did, I suspected he could maintain this inertia for ages. I looked at my watch. If I went back now it might mean talking to that little swine Hauser.... I debated the pros and cons: spend the remaining hour I had left to me here with Clovis or risk enduring Hauser's cynical gossip, all silky insinuation and covert bitchery?

Should I tell you about Hauser now, I wonder? No, perhaps not; Hauser and the others will engage us as we meet them. They can wait a while; let us return to Clovis.

I changed my position, uncrossed my legs and stretched them out infront of me. A small ant seemed to have trapped itself under the strap of my brassiere and I spent a few awkward minutes trying vainly to locate it. Clovis impassively watched me remove first my shirt and then my bra. I found no insect but discovered its traces -- a neat cluster of pink bites under my left armpit. I rubbed spit on them and replaced my clothes. As I did up the top button on my shirt, Clovis seemed to lose interest in me. He slapped his shoulder once, brusquely, and clambered into the mulemba tree beneath which he had been sitting, and with powerful easy movements he swung through the branches, leapt onto an adjacent tree and was away, lost to sight, heading northeast toward the hills of the escarpment.

I looked at my watch again and noted the time of his departure. Perhaps now he was going to rejoin the other members of his group? It was not unheard of for Clovis to spend a day on his own but it was out of the ordinary-he was gregarious, even by chimpanzee standards. I had been watching him for three -hours, during which time he had done almost nothing singular or unusualbut then that too was worth recording, of course. I stood up and stretched and walked to the mulemba tree to examine Clovis's feces. I took out a little specimen bottle from my bag and, with a twig, collected some. That would be my present for Hauser.

I walked back down the path that led me in the general direction of the camp. A large proportion of the trails in this part of the forest had been recently cleared and the going was easy. I had had markers and directional arrows nailed to trees at important intersections to help me find my way about. This portion of the reserve, south of the big stream, was far less familiar than the main research area to the north.

I walked at a steady even pace -- I was in no particular hurry to get back-and in any event was reasonably tired. The real force of the afternoon's heat had passed; I could see the sun on the topmost branches of the trees but down here on the forest floor all was dim shadow. I enjoyed these walks home at the end of the day and I preferred the confined vistas of the forest to more impressive panoramas -- I liked being hemmed in, rather than exposed. I liked the vegetation close to me, bushes and branches brushing my sides, the frowsty smell of decaying leaves and the filtered, screened neutrality of the light.

As I walked I took out a cigarette. It was a Tusker, a local brand, strong and sweet. As I lit it and drew in the smoke I thought of my ex-husband, John Clearwater. This was the most obvious legacy of our short marriage -- a bad habit. There were others, of course, other legacies, but they were not visible to the naked eye.

Joao was waiting for me, about a mile from camp. He sat on a log picking at an old scab on his knee. He looked tired and not very well. Joao was very black, his skin almost a dark violet color. He had a Ilong top lip that made him look permanently sad and serious. He rose to his feet as I approached. We greeted each other and I offered him a cigarette, which he accepted and carefully stored in his canvas bag.

"Any luck?" I asked.

"I think, I think I see Lena," he said. "She very big now." He held out his hands, shaping a pregnant belly. "She come very soon now. But then she run from me."

He gave me his field notes and I told him about my uneventful day with Clovis as we strolled back to camp. Joao was my full-time assistant. He was in his forties, a thin, wiry man, diligent and loyal. We were training his second son, Alda, as an observer, but he was away today in the city, trying to sort out some problem to do with his military service. I asked how Alda was progressing.

"I think he will return tomorrow," Joao said. "They say the war is finish soon, so no more soldiers are required."

"Let's hope so."

We talked a little about our plans for the next day. Soon we reached the small river that Mallabar -- I think-had whimsically named the Danube. It was fed from the damp grasslands high on the plateau to the east, and descended in a series of pools and falls in a long deepish valley through our portion of the Semirance Forest, and then moved on, more sedately and ever broadening, until it met the great Cabule River a hundred and fifty miles away on the edge of the coastal plain.


Excerpted from Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd Copyright © 2007 by William Boyd. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Brazzaville Beach 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
sas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Perhaps my favourite modern novel - a deeply profound, rich meditation on exactly what makes us human. Which also manages to be an entertaining read - with a bit of chaos theory thrown in for good measure. Multiple readings have not dimmed its power at all.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't encountered too many books written by male authors but narrated by female characters. This is one of the few - and unfortunately I didn't think Boyd created a woman here, or at least if she is she's a bit butch. He did a better job in 'Restless'. There were good points to this novel - Boyd's writing is always entertaining, there were some good bit-part characters (I liked Meredith, she has the perfect life IMO!), and the ape storyline taken in isolation was very good. I had difficulty following the past/present strands of the plot, however, even though these were differentiated by first person/third person narration. Interesting literary device but a bit confusing. The writing was a bit nebulous in places....I just would have liked a bit more explanation of some of the sections.Left me slightly disappointed.
ruthseeley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all-time favourite works of contemporary fiction. I would so love to write the screenplay for the movie that begs to be made from this novel.
Oregonreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brazzaville Beach is one of the best novels by a very good author. The book combines thought-provoking ideas and a gripping plot. Hope Clearwater is a young Englishwoman who marries a math genius primarily because she envies the way his mind works. A retrospective look at his ideas and her observation of his breakdown is woven between her life in a camp in the Congo where she is one of the observers in a large study of chimps. The camp is situated in a region where constant fighting occurs between government and rebellious forces. Hope makes a shocking discovery about the behavior of the chimps and this sets off unexpected repercussions. Her experiences as she moves between the chimps, the scientists in the camp and the war all around her create an amazing story. This is a book that can be enjoyed on many levels, from the philosophical to the simply suspenseful.
dreamreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's been some time since I've read a book that satisfied on so many levels - vividly created characters, a sense of time and place, an engaging multi-level plot, and philosophical, scientific, and psychological theories. Now what? What to read next that will measure up? I'm hoping it's more of William Boyd.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hope Clearwater is a young woman who has already accumulated quite a few harrowing life experiences, and she tells the story of what has led up to her living on Brazzaville Beach in some unnamed part of Africa. First comes a marriage to a mathematician shortly after having finished her own studies as a researcher. Completely obsessed by his research into the mathematics of unpredictability, her husband displays more and more distressing signs of mental instability until Hope must face the fact that she cannot continue living with him. Then comes her work in Africa as part of a research organization that focuses on studying primates in the wild. Here again, she soon sees some disturbing behaviour on the part of the chimps under her observation, which runs contrary to the long-held belief that they are peaceful and gentle animals, and rather more like humans than anyone, including her boss, is willing to accept. Brilliantly written and filled with unexpected twists and turns, I was continually impressed with the way Boyd incorporated what must have been an incredible amount of research (into primate behaviour and advanced mathematics, among other things) into a very engaging novel. My first William Boyd and certainly not my last. Great narrations by Harriet Walter, who does a very convincing job as Hope Clearwater.
jintster on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From what I can tell from the three novels I've now read by Boyd, he is consistently solid. None of them would qualify for my book of the year but they are all very readable and interesting. As Boyd likes to work in different genres, this is more of an achievement than it sounds. Hope Clearwater looks back from her beach hut on the two main espisodes of her adult life. The end of her marriage to a genius mathemetician who goes slowly mad and her work observing chimpanzees. The two stories are told in parallel and are clearly meant to be linked in some way (other than through the protaganist) but I couldn't spot it myself. However, this had no bearing on my enjoyment of the narratives. The marriage strand is naturally the more introspective of the two. There are some interesting observations on the higher echelons of mathematics, on the dynamics of a marriage in which one party will always play second fiddle to the other's vocations and on madness brought on by the elusiveness of one's goals. The chimpanzee strand was even more interesting. The band that Hope is asked with observing has split off from a larger group for the north. The northerners start a war against the southerners. But this is not standard chimp behaviour and it goes against all the academic theory of her boss, who becomes desperate to supress Hope's findings. There's a lot of action, twists and turns stuffed into this book and towards the end it does strain credulity a little. But overall another fine story by Boyd.
lindawwilson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too much a hodgepodge of ideas with various unrelated scientific pontifications that did not fit in with the story. The heroine was plucky, certainly, but I did not like her and did not understand her. The story jumped around in time and place which was confusing and annoying.
probably on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book enough to read it twice. Not the most upbeat book in the world.
raggedprince on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think this is one of the only stories I've read based around scientists doing research in the field. I'd like to read others - when the personalities of the animals come into play it seems like fertile ground for good fiction - which this most certainly is.
miketroll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An absorbing tale of Europeans in equatorial Africa, this novel is redolent of authentic local knowledge. The only disappointment in reading Boyd is the persistent hope that he might top his own masterpiece, A Good Man In Africa, but that¿s hardly possible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. Two stories alternate and both are interesting. I thought I would like the part about Africa best, and I did like the focus on primate study (kudos for making the main character a woman because many of the major experts are women) with the war as a backdrop only occasionally entering the main drama. I found the English story just as interesting. The author really understands vastly different subjects. This is the first book I have read by Boyd and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was unusual.I loved the first page or two of the book where Boyd sets out the scene of the book. I then thought the book would be about this exotic location set against the back drop of an African civil war. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the book was about chimps and the study of these chimps. I liked the meandering philosophy of the book and the telling of the story of Hope Clearwater's life.I understood the comparison of the war between the chimps and civil war but I HATED everything there was to do with the chimps. This book shows a intelligent force at work. Boyd is a worthwhile writer and I will try to read more of his work as long as he doesn't write about chimps!!Incidently he wrote the book for the film 'A good man in Africa'. This was a fine film starring Sean Connery and others.Watch it!