A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd; I, Norman Harris by Derek Kartun - review by Bill Greenwell

Bill Greenwell


A Good Man in Africa


Hamish Hamilton 251pp £6.95 order from our bookshop

I, Norman Harris


Bodley Head 224pp £5.50 order from our bookshop

Both of these lads have sharpened their pens. The ubiquitous maestro of the mucky chuckle is visible in each of these first novels, as witness this composite blurb:

Meet a fiercely independent spirit caught in the relentless heat, the boring routine. What he has is problems, sexual and spiritual. He sees events as potential escape routes from his drab background and spiritual prison ... erratic and infelicitous attractions of big-bosomed, alarmingly purposeful mistress ... mocked, jilted, black-mailed, toppled from his precariously balanced existence ... hilariously climactic final scenes ... a brilliantly funny, glorious romp ... evokes memories of Tom Sh ...

Well, obviously. I mean, it's all there, isn't it? Two more novels about angst ridden, self-consciously libidinous men at the mercy of runaway plots.

The enthusiastic Bodley Head blurber insists (front flap) that Kartun is a 'writer of whom more will certainly be heard'. No doubt because (back flap) 'he is already at work on a sequel'. But let me dispose of Norman Harris, which is a not-entirely novel about a rag-trade accountant. Not unlike Walden Yapp of Sharpe's Ancestral Vices, he fights ennui by programming a computer to stimulate his fantasies. All this is intended to satirise the business world, but its caricatures of jargon-gibbering executives are neither accurate nor absurd enough. It's a thinly veiled excursion into bedtime funnies – flat Sharpe, and barely laughable.

But Boyd's novel is much more substantial, although not because of the blurb's outrageous suggestion – who cobbles this codswallop together? – that the 'forces hellbent on his downfall ... seem to include the spirit of Africa itself' . Why are such deadpaneygrics felt necessary? Who, pardon my foaming at

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