A story of survival and self-discovery set in the African bush amid army ants, poachers and, of course, lions.
Cousins (Landscape, 2005) populates her novel with four well-drawn friends and a vivid, thriving collection of creatures both deadly and beautiful. The action begins as the friends’ guide, Bones, leaves them under mysterious circumstances in the middle of a safari. The four consist of two pairs: Griff, the stoic surgeon, and his wife Nina, a picture of well-educated composure; and a younger couple of Abby, a gorgeous teacher, and Todd, a fitness-obsessed hothead. Todd is first to grow impatient, setting out to find the vanished Bones, even though leaving the Land Cruiser is considered tantamount to suicide. Todd doesn’t return, and the others grow restless, driving off to find Bones and their friend. What happens next is a series of misadventures that threaten the lives of all four unlikely survivalists. They face terrible infections, hordes of biting insects, hunchbacked hyenas, elephants, vipers—the full breadth of Africa’s ferocious fauna. Cousins renders these dangers with impressive detail, drawing on her experiences in Africa. The characters are no less detailed: each has a rich inner life, and each is transformed by their experiences; Griff reassess his priorities, Nina is humbled, Abby discovers inner strength and Todd learns how to accept his own frailty. Indeed, the largest criticism that can be leveled against the novel is that it can sometimes seem too perfectly constructed; the animals all arrive at the most dramatic moments, and the characters are all preternaturally self-aware, expounding at length on who they are even in the midst of life-threatening peril. Thankfully, Cousins’ rich prose and tense plot carry the reader past any moments of noticeable artificiality. It’s no small feat that she maintains a persistent sense of impending doom without exhausting the reader.
A taut, introspective thriller that mixes detailed survivalist fare and character study with aplomb, expertly framed by a vibrant setting.