A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA by William Boyd


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Morgan Leafy, First Secretary at the British High Commission in Nkongsamba, Kinjanja (a.k.a. Nigeria), is one of those grandly cynical, infectiously foul and petty anti-heroes who spit and sweat through British 20th-century comic fiction. Fat, balding at 34, conscious of his lowish-middle-class background, Morgan hates ""this stinking hot frustrating shit-hole of a country."" The only good things about it are ""beer and sex"" (with promiscuous black mistress Hazel). And, lately, things have gotten especially revolting. Dalmire, the Oxford-educated new Second Secretary, has become engaged to Priscilla Fanshawe, the High Commissioner's daughter (superb body, unfortunate nose), whom Morgan would have won--were it not for the fact that he developed gonorrhea just about the time Priscilla turned lustful. Meanwhile, a native servant at the Commission has been killed by lightning-strike, and complicated ritual laws are preventing the removal of the rotting corpse (just as a Duchess is about to arrive on a Christmas visit). And, worst of all, Morgan, while trying to cultivate one of Kinjanja's political leaders, has slipped into tender adultery with Celia, the white wife of the Party's local chief--so now the Party chief (who knows all) is using the scandalous affair for blackmail: he insists that Morgan be the middle-man in a land-sale scheme to bribe upright Dr. Murray of the University--who just happens to be Morgan's nemesis. (""What was it about Murray, he wondered, that made him want to dash out his brains, mn him over with his car, hack him into dog-meat with a machete?"") All this emerges a bit too slowly and repetitiously here, with a large central chunk of flashback. But Morgan's galloping miseries converge quite neatly as Christmas, the Duchess' visit, and a national election coincide: there's the midnight body-removal, which leads to native riots; there are slapstick nudity-encounters with the High Commissioner's imperious wife and with the Duchess; there's the blithe arrival of a poetical Yorkshireman for an Anglo-Kinjanjan literary confab; there's the unmasking of Celia's ulterior motive. And, finally, there's a coup--during which Morgan becomes slightly heroic, is nearly seduced by the unpredictable Commissioner's wife, and changes his mind about virtuous, bribe-refusing Dr. Murray. . . who dies amid the chaos: ""Why Murray? he asked himself in despair. A good man like that. . . . Why not Dalmire, why not Fanshawe? Why not me?"" True, this mildly upbeat character-transformation is less than convincing or satisfying. And, throughout, Boyd can lapse from credible black-comedy into cheap farce. Still, if the worst of this energetic novel is reminiscent of crude sit-corns, the best recalls Waugh and Amis--in a dark yet cheerful nightmare that's juiced along by humiliation, fury, and a highly unsentimental view of post-colonial Africa.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Morrow