This was for book club and I didn’t quite finish it before the meeting. We hardly ever discuss the books anyway.
So it’s about an east African island kingdom and what goes wrong when they discover modernity and try to clamber into the twentieth century. Except it turns out it isn’t really about that at all, because it’s a satire on the state of Britain at the time. Not knowing a huge amount about what was going on in Britain in the late 1920s and 30s (I think that’s the right era… it’s been a while since I read it now) due to history lessons concentrating on Hitler and stuff and movies being all about American gangsters and Downton Abbey being set a little bit too early, I didn’t spot this at the time I was reading it.
I only figured it out after reading the introduction, which in the Everyman edition I’ve got (which is a thing of absolute beauty) is quite a substantial piece of writing in itself, and I generally read them after I’ve read the book in case it spoils things. In this case, I don’t think it would have done. Anyway, it’s pretty OK in terms of the writing. Not extremely funny, although there are some moments, and you have to love the French ambassador. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a classic.
See also: Wizard of the Crow – Ngugi wa Thiong’o – also a satirical book set in Africa with some larger than life characters.