Set in an unnamed newly independent West African Country, Lindsay’s first novel was shortlisted for the David Higham First Novel Award. Its inspiration came from a story told to him by a Welsh colleague at the Ghanaian school where they both taught English from 1962 to 1965. While teaching in Nigeria, the colleague, a fundamentalist Christian, had witnessed the slow death of an old woman cast out as a witch by her family, and had felt unable to intervene in that desperate situation. The novel arose out of Lindsay’s troubled self-questioning about what he might have done in those exacting circumstances.
Though the novel is set in a school-compound and nearby rain-forest town much like the place where Lindsay lived and worked, the narrative is a fictional account of the ordeal undergone by a disillusioned political idealist forced to confront the inadequacy of his own overly rational response to the complex world around him. This haunting novel delves deeply into unsuspected layers of the human psyche – into realms of fear that lie between men and women, light and darkness, control and abandon.
“Though essentially a psychological study of a man in extremis, the novel has a strong cast of closely observed secondary characters, and Clarke displays a fine ear for their rich diversity of speech patterns. Africa itself is powerfully evoked as much more than a mere backdrop to Palmer’s personal tragedy, and an important theme of the book is the degree to which it is possible for an outsider, however well-intentioned, to become integrated in an alien culture.”
(Times Literary Supplement)
“The impact of the book is uncanny, the settings marvellously real. The ruthlessness of the new rulers, Africa’s continuing subservience to tribal instincts and the disintegration of Palmer’s marriage and mind are all memorably conveyed.”