Despite the odd nice surprise, I’ve had a bit of a reading drought recently. You know how it goes. You join a book club expecting to extend your range of reading (and therby your enjoyment) but end up with stuff you just don’t particularly take to.
I’m glad to say this patch has well and truly ended with The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (who of course has just won the Orange Prize for The Lacuna). Half way down the first page I felt I was in the hands of a great writer. By the next chapter even the inner writing critic had left the room (an unusual occurrence these days) to make way for the sheer enjoyment of reading.
As it happens this is the third book I have read about Africa in recent months (following The Cloth Girl and Last King of Scotland) but by far and away the best. It reminds me more (if I’m remembering correctly) of Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast (mad father drags reluctant family to back of beyond) but I sense this is playing out on a much bigger canvas. On Kingsolver’s site, you can read an excerpt from the prologue in the voice of Orleanna Price, wife of an evangelical baptist minister, but what makes it special for me (I’m about a third of the way through) is the author’s ability to get right inside the heads of her four daughters who have landed in the Belgian Congo from 1960s Missouri without the slightest notion of what to expect. What is soon glaringly obvious is that their parents are no better prepared. But it’s the girls – ‘baby’ Ruth May, blonde sixteen-year-old Rachel ‘whose only hopes for the year were a sweet-sixteen party and pink mohair twinset’ and eleven year old twins Leah and Adah – talented in very different ways – whose youthful innocence and deep wisdom has coloured the story so far.
Best news of all is that I also have a copy of Lacuna in my possession. The drought, I hope, is well and truly over.