The rake from Mason’s preternaturally witty History of a Pleasure Seeker (2012) comes to an untimely end.
There’s something of a bait-and-switch inherent in this unlikely sequel in which the author seems determined to punish his primary character for the very traits that captured readers’ imaginations in the first place. Our hero once more is Piet Barol, a Dutch con artist posing as a French aristocrat in Cape Town on the eve of World War I. But he’s a much different man than we remember, coasting on borrowed funds and running his furniture business into the ground. He delights in his son, Arthur, but his shrill wife, an oversexed American named Stacey, is determined that Piet become a success. Though Piet is still a charismatic character, he’s developed a palpable middle age melancholy. After taking a large order from a local mining magnate, Piet needs a new source for wood. He finds it near the coastal village of Gwadana in an untouched mahogany forest worshiped by the Xhosa people, and with the help of two Xhosa servants, he embarks on a complex scheme to convince the Xhosa that the forest is inhabited by a murderous creature. In the midst of this misadventure, Piet Barol ceases being the enigmatic raconteur and transforms into merely an instrument by which Mason can reflect on African culture, the sins of colonialism, and the roots of apartheid. By the time Stacey arrives in the company of a racist foreman, Frank Albemarle, Piet has very nearly gone native, and it’s not long before karma catches up with him. Mason continues to earn his reputation with exquisitely crafted sentences and a dizzying knack for storytelling. But this is an unexpected, winding diversion that may catch readers by surprise.
The strange, unpredictable arc of a born narcissist who turns out to have a soul after all.