To write on Africa these days, it is better to remain vague as to the actual country which remains " on the edge of the Continent" and only give an actual name to a once fashionable beach gone native as the meeting place of the characters. Such a novel cannot escape either the inevitable civil war between savage adolescent troops , but an ironic description of hideous massacres between insanely named "terrorist " , who are in fact volley ball players, can lead to a rather enjoyable tale. Boyd avoids thus the snare of racism and western arrogance and delights the reader with the tremendous drama African enterprises can produce with rather ordinary lives.
The plot can be quite gripping when the subject is Ecology in the Midlands woods and coppices on the one hand, and the study of Chimpanzee behavior in the African bush on the other hand ; this is the first professional trek of Hope Clearwater, the strong willed Amazon and heroine of the book. Now this woman although an academic and not a crime specialist, is spared nothing : a psychotic mathematician as a husband, an Egyptian lover as a mysterious pilot of a fleet of contraband Migs, a tough career as an observer of monkeys behavior in the African Forest undergrowth with a team of neurotic western scientists living in the same compound in a colonial atmosphere of sexual and academic rivalry , totally obsessed by their project, yet subject to kidnapping, attacks or rampage by war lords in the vicinity.They are real " Innocents abroad " .
Danger is everywhere and it is an adventure story full of fear and risk , plus the vigor of the wilderness , riveting with the complexity of flash backs and 2 parallel stories entwined of the failure of an academic marriage and the discovery of wild Africa and a war among Chimpanzees. Hope ends up living alone in a hut on Brazzaville beach, exhausted , rescued from kidnapping and imprisonment in the jungle and quietly reflecting upon her life. One is tempted to think that it is still the prerogative of the white man or woman to take Africa , surely the last frontier in this world , as a marvelously saving therapy… "Brazzaville Beach" is also curiously a rather feminist opus : this single woman's life along with its travails and ordeals appears to be better than James Bond's exploits but also attains some intellectual achievement of note.