Someone remarks of Kathleen, dominant presence and mother of this novel’s narrator, Alexander, that ‘she takes lovers the way other people take hot showers’. Indeed, she takes so many lovers, often simultaneously, in the course of a life of reckless adventure in Africa that Alexander can only suspect, and never be sure, that the man who begot him was a Limey from Leicester who, on his emigration to Africa, had eventually become a deranged, half-naked white witch doctor. How she captivates all these lovers – ranging from a leopard-man, whom she briefly and disastrously welcomes into her home, to owners of thousands of acres of jungle in remote, steamy corners of the continent – can only be ascribed to the perpetual mystery of human attraction.
Kathleen is no beauty. Six feet two in her socks, with huge hands and feet, she smokes pipes and cigars and looks like Jack Lemmon in drag in Some Like It Hot. At a time when hunting usually means ‘small game pursued by large men in bad shorts’, she is