Thursday, 22 February 2018

Book review : Fire On The Mountain - Jean McNeil

Fire on the Mountain is the latest book from Jean McNeil - you may remember that I also reviewed her previous novel, The Dhow House - and although the books are entirely unrelated, I immediately recognised the same literary style and several of the same themes. We are once again in an unnamed African country and the main character is once more an aid worker, whose inner turmoil and unease reflects the hostile political climate that he often finds himself in.

The main character in this book is Nick, a rather mysterious character, who turns up unexpectedly at the house of Pieter, a (locally) famous and politically controversial author, and his wife Sara, who are the parents of one of Nick's friends. They welcome him in with open arms and an equally open invitation to stay as long as he likes, while remaining slightly apprehensive, faced with his vague non-explanations of why he suddenly jumped ship, running away from his job and his duties.

Nick doesn't seem to really know himself why he ran away and he avoids opening his emails, for fear of finding reprimands and even legal threats. As the book progresses, we learn that he had a vague inkling that he was in danger, without understanding why. 

As soon as Pieter and Sara's son Riaan puts in an appearance, it became obvious to me how the book would pan out. While both happily heterosexual, they strike up a friendship that somehow transcends the usual boundaries of friendship or brotherhood. Their long walks with Riaan's dogs along the beach evolve into a cross-country road trip into hostile country, on a rescue mission to save an ostracised child accused of witchcraft. The different landscapes they drive through are described in great detail, with mentions of the flora and fauna, the climate and dangers, the inhabitants and their dwellings, ... - in fact, the reader gets to know Nick's external surroundings much more thoroughly than his inner turmoil and motivations. This makes it hard to see him develop and his voyage of self-discovery never really gets off the ground, which is slightly frustrating as a reader.

The final tragic scenes are only viewed second hand, in literary form, so the reader is distanced and feels remote and therefore somewhat unaffected. I love books where I can really get under the main character's skin and empathise with, or at least understand, him, so this left me wanting more. I could imagine the final chapter as a very poignant movie scene though - with Pieter's voice reading his novel, while the scenes played out, with shots of a pregnant girlfriend wistfully waiting by the window and a dusty jeep streaking across a sun-baked, burnt orange landscape.

It's a slow-paced book that gives you time to think and appreciate the lyrical quality of the writing and the unique landscapes that the gentle journey will take you on, rather than a high-octane, action-packed thriller that will leave you emotionally and mentally drained.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 Feb. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785078992
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785078996
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 1.9 x 17.9 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

1 comment:

  1. Great, balanced book review, with strengths and weaknesses outlined in equal measure. I didn't think it would be my type of book, when it was offered for reviewing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...