THE HANGING TREE by David Lambkin

THE HANGING TREE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The American edition of last year's South African bestseller, a brooding meditation on humankind's violent nature. A peaceful but troubled woman, Kathryn Widd, the junior paleontologist of a South African museum, is sent to the Nyika Desert of Kenya and Somalia by her director. She is to investigate the discovery of an ancient skull while he heads off on a more promising dig. The skull predates other skeletal remains of early humans but, the director figures, belongs to an ape who walked about on all fours, rather than an upright hominid. Turns out he's wrong, and glories accrue to Kathryn, but that's the only triumphant note in this dark novel. Kathryn quickly becomes intrigued by the story of the turn-of-the-century white hunter J.H. Patterson. Patterson either killed or had a hand in the suicide of an English lord after having a steamy affair with his wife, scandalizing colonial Kenya. Patterson's book on the affair, In the Grip of the Nyika, which Kathryn reads with great absorption, turns out to offer a grim foreshadowing of events in the present. Loveless Kathryn unwittingly recapitulates the older story as she falls in love with a latter-day hunter, Tregallion. The tragic violence Patterson found himself drawn into occurs again, leaving Tregallion dead. And this death is in turn mirrored by discoveries at Kathryn's dig, where evidence of a truly ancient murder is unearthed. Kathryn returns to South Africa a mother and an internationally respected scholar, but also a grieving widow, bewildered by the dark, violent nature of humankind and the inscrutability of God. Kathryn is not an entirely convincing character, and the references to the Patterson case seem like overkill, but Lambkin is extremely skilled in evoking the raw malevolence of backcountry Kenya. Heart of Darkness from a woman's point of view.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 1-887178-19-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996