Simon & Schuster, £14.99 238pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, By Alexandra Fuller
Friday 21 October 2011
In 2002 Alexandra Fuller published a childhood memoir that her family now dismiss as "that Awful Book". Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight blew the lid off the silence surrounding white racism in (then) Rhodesia. It also alienated her parents and enthralled readers with stories of snakes and dogs and watching out for "terrorists" when you went to the loo at night. We last saw her parents in her self-searching travelogue, Scribbling the Cat, sexing the fish at their farm in Zambia. Her new book returns her to the family fold – half an apology, half an ode of admiration for her extraordinary mother.
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is a gin-riddled romp through the life and times of Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she likes to refer to herself. Born in Skye but raised in Kenya, Fuller's mother has always loved books and "wanted to appear in them (the way she likes large, expensive hats, and likes to appear in them)". Unapologetically beautiful and (sometimes unwisely) daring, hers is indeed a "life Worthy of Fabulous Literature". In the opening chapter she learns to fly, singing Sinatra as she sets off in the footsteps of her literary role-models, Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham, after a dashing Sri Lankan pilot.
There follows a series of astonishing friendships – mostly with animals but some with people. From Stephen Foster the chimpanzee to Violet, a "horse of such shining perfection" that she won every race she entered. Most touching is the relationship between Nicola and her husband, Tim. Fuller lovingly details the early days of their marriage and the insane confidence that comes with being the most exciting couple around.
Nearly 50 years later, they have survived the death of three children, several wars, and endless moves from farm to farm, trailing dogs, cats, a bronze statue of Wellington and some orange Le Creuset pots. Incremental loss nearly kills her mother and is only dissipated by a lot of pills and a spell in a Zimbabwean mental hospital. But she retains her indomitable courage and her devoted, if rather deaf, husband.
Some of the tales here are familiar from Fuller's memoirs and short stories. But Cocktail Hour revisits family events – in particular the drowning of her sister Olivia – from her mother's perspective. Sliding between past and present, Fuller writes her research into the story as she listens to her parents reminiscing over yet another drink. Even at her most relaxed, Fuller's own politics filter through. There are numerous historical asides; she distances herself from such clichés as "the perfect equatorial light" and eschews her mother's pronunciation of "Keen-ya" for a shorter "postcolonial e". This is another dazzling, uncomfortable and incorrigibly funny account of the Fuller family's love affair with a continent, a fatally flawed past and the search for some kind of peace under the tree of forgetfulness on what we hope is their final farm.
Zoe Norridge teaches English at York University
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Mike Tindall, Jodie Kidd and co take to the slopes
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones, season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi's sex life
Martin Scorsese 'in shock' after death on set of new film Silence
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures