A young graduate moves from South Africa to England to kick-start his career in Wiles’ debut novel.
Nelson Leatherby has just earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and faces a fairly stifling future in the business world of his native city of Durban, South Africa. He fears that a career based on his old-school ties will become oppressive, despite the plush suburban lifestyle it could afford him. He decides to go to London, selling off his motorcycle and saying goodbye to his home country. The new city, however, turns out to be cold and expensive, and the pay at his job at a shipping company is meager. Meanwhile, Nelson is dying to lose his virginity, and there are a few girls around that interest him, including an Australian neighbor and an attractive English dispatcher at his work. When Rafferty Farnsworth, a male acquaintance from South Africa, surprisingly arrives, Nelson thinks that he may help him open some social and career doors. Rafferty is something of a self-styled playboy, and he’s never dull; unfortunately, he’s gotten himself mixed up with the Mafia, and Nelson is soon drawn into the resulting turmoil. Wiles does an admirable job of creating a young, ambitious character who has very little sense of entitlement. His version of Durban is a hot, teeming port city with smoky trains that “ferried the long-suffering citizens of the Natal south coast—Indians, Zulus, and Xhosas—between home and work,” while London, as the seat of the British Empire, is a place of infinite possibility. Wiles obviously knows South Africa as well as he does Europe, and he describes Nelson’s entry-level work experience in 1960s London with humility and a good deal of savvy about how the city works. This is more a crime novel than a coming-of-age story, though, and the inclusion of Rafferty and other characters gives the story the air of a lighthearted thriller. Some portions of the book could have been more concise, but often Wiles writes strongly about chairmen, aristocrats, and mobsters, placing the action in some appealing European settings.
A wistful, brightly imagined tale of a young man on the make.