Witty, acerbic African tale

2012-02-01 00:00

THIS book languished on my dressing table for a couple of weeks before I opened it.

The cover is a bizarre cartoon depicting a chaotic wildlife scene with a laughing zebra and an upside down giraffe. It’s just silly. Each time I looked at it, I sighed and covered it with another book delaying my in­evitable engagement with it.

Eventually the time had come, and I could procrastinate no longer. I languidly read the first pages. Then a chuckle escaped my lips and the task of reading it seemed far less daunting. In 20 minutes, I was hooked and enjoyed one of my best reads of the year.

The book is created around the MacNaughton family, who have two sons whose vitriol for each other runs deep and bitter. They have hated each other for years, and miss no opportunity to manifest this in an argument or any spiteful attack. In a last-ditch attempt to get them to get on, their battle-weary father has organised jobs for them at the same luxury game camp on the border of the Kruger. The elder Angus as a game guide who insults his guests and Hugh as an over­zealous lodge manager.

While Hugh and Angus balk at the idea of the filial bonding, they soon settle in to make the most of it, writing e-mails home to their sister Julia, which form the structure of the book. As they relate the events of the year, the reader gets to experience many highlights of the antics of life in the wild from both brothers’ perspectives. It is a window into a world juxtaposed between the wilds of ­Africa and the pampered international guests they attract, who are cosseted by a service contingent catering to their every whim. Staff scandal, sibling rivalry, romantic liaisons and spoofs on South African and international stereotypes made for a rich entertaining read.

What I did not expect to emanate from the pages was the wonderful humour of it all, intertwined with real tenderness and sadness. Although worlds apart, the hilarity dished up is reminiscent of that of Frasier and Niles Crane; witty and acerbic and often self-deprecating. It’s a great read and one which I was sad to finish. Episode two would not go unappreciated.

The moral of this story is, of course, don’t judge a book by its cover.

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