Last time, I promised you I would tell you about my latest local South African discovery. I recently attended the marvellous Open Book Literary Festival in Cape Town. One of the events that I did was a panel discussion with other writers from Johannesburg, and I was in the embarrassing position of not having read any of them. So at the airport I grabbed James Hendry’s Back to the Bush. My idea was that I would read a bit of it, just to get an idea, and then do some work.
Well, the work did not have a chance. I was immediately dragged into a world of hilarious characters, uproarious incidents, and all set in my favourite part of the world – the South African bush.
The story premise is simple – and this is the second novel in the series – it tells the story of 2 very different brothers who find themselves working at the same game lodge, surrounded by a cast of comedic characters. There is something a bit “Spud” like about it and one can imagine the series continuing. By the time I got off the plane, I was more than half way through this quite thick book. I was quite beside myself with hero worship by the time I met James Hendry, who is as wry and witty as his books.
I do have two small criticisms, but I really want you to read them in the context of a book that I loved and highly recommend. The language is slightly wordier than I like – my philosophy is that you should always use the most straight forward word available to you – but James’s characters “acquiesce” instead of “agreeing”, to pick one of many examples. Because the book is so fast paced and well plotted, it did not bother me as it might have, until there was a drop of pace in the final third of the book. For a few chapters, I found myself slightly irritated by the language, and particularly the way one character spoke. Then the plot picked up again, and I stopped noticing as the book romped to a fabulous close.
My feeling is that this book was too gently edited – the publishers knew they had a fabulous read on their hands, and perhaps didn’t want to scare their magnificent author away. They should have taken the elephant-bull by the horns, cut about three chapters completely, and asked for less pretentious language. Then it would have been perfect.
And indeed, the end product is an overall excellent experience. You should probably start with “A Year in the Wild” . . . and I really suggest you run out and buy it today.