23 September 2011

A Year in the Wild (James Hendry)

The best place to read a book set in the bush is in the bush. So you can imagine my glee when it arrived before I left for a week in Madikwe Game Reserve. And A Year in the Wild: A Riotous Novel by James Hendry continued to delight me from there.

It’s both delicious and deliciously funny. It draws easy-to-imagine pictures of madness and mayhem; hilarity and horror. And it gives the most fascinating insights into what goes on behind the posh scenes of larney lodges, in a very similar manner to Imogen Edwards-Jones’s Babylon novels, all of which I have greedily devoured.

But I don’t think the back cover blurb does this book sufficient justice, because there’s so much more to it than the rivalry between brothers – and newly appointed Sasekile Private Game Lodge staff members – Angus and Hugh MacNaughton.

It’s about strong and strange personalities, ridiculous holidaymakers, broken rules and ignored regulations. It’s about animals and birds and the human beings who live and work alongside them. And it’s about the author’s own real-life experience of the bush and the game lodge world, translated into comic (and sometimes tragic) fiction.

I typically disparage novels written in correspondence form. I don’t like them as a rule; I find them cheesy. But the device works well in A Year in the Wild, because the plot is mostly light and undemanding. The writer has also taken great care to give his two main narrators, Angus and Hugh, completely different voices, styles and tones.

Not an easy thing to achieve for an author who’s new to fiction. I’m impressed.

My only criticism, then? The novel gets more enjoyable the deeper you delve, with a strong middle and a great end. It’s neither as flawless nor as compelling in the start as it could be, and is, elsewhere. Buy it for bush or beach reading, though. It’s fun.


Photo credit: Google Images