Simon & Schuster, £14.99 238pp. £13.49 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, By Alexandra Fuller

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

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?