Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Malla Nunn, A Beautiful Place to Die

Not really one for the mystery/thriller genre -- not from any determined prejudice (hey, my mom's a big mystery reader), but... just never lit me up (similar to never having been taken by horror films is the way I look at it) -- but this one caught my eye and has an African connection, so...

A Beautiful Place to Die reads like it's begging to be filmed. Which isn't surprising considering the author, Malla Nunn, is a filmmaker. Set in early 1950s South Africa (Nunn was born in Swaziland; now lives in Australia -- boy, how often am I going to be typing that about "South African" works in the coming years) the book is a hothouse of "vice" (a misegynistic nightmare for the early Apartheid state), corruption, deception, sex, violence.

You know, standard stuff.

Great fun? Not hardly. For my taste there's far too much violence enacted by cardboard cut-out characters. Nunn does not, to her credit, evoke standard stereotypes (except in having her characters rely on stereotypes -- which seems right, though maybe that in itself is working from rather stereotypical assumptions of early apartheid era South Africa?). But... It's not right to say there's a predictability to the narrative arc (she does mix things up), although... There's a certain uniformity to the mixing?


The ending is much too neat considering the bloody mess it's born out of, with the post-apartheid lessons learned explicitly tagged in the penultimate paragraph of the book. The closing paragraph is reserved for setting the emotional stage for the sequel.

But an interesting book -- though better at the start, before Emmanuel Cooper is locked in the hothouse of Jacob's Rest. Damning with faint praise?


Back to the wars of central Africa...