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The Book Of The Heathen [Paperback]

Robert Edric
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: 6.99
Price: 6.67 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

2 July 2001

1897. In an isolated station in the Belgian Congo, an Englishman awaits trial for the murder of a native child. Imprisoned in a makeshift gaol, Nicholas Frere awaits the arrival of the Company's official investigator, while his friend, James Frasier, attempts to determine the circumstances which surround the charge.

The world around them is rapidly changing: the horrors of the Belgian Congo are becoming known and the flow of its once-fabulous wealth is drying up. Unrest flares unstoppably into violence.

Frere's coming trial will seek to determine considerably more than the killing of a child. But at the heart of this conflict lies a secret so dark, so unimaginable, that one man must be willingly destroyed by his possession of it, and the other must both sanction and participate in that destruction.

'More disturbing even than Conrad in his depiction of the heart of darkness . . . it will be surprising if this year sees a more disturbing or haunting novel' Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

'Relentless . . . an impressive and disturbing work of art' Robert Nye, Literary Review

'Edric describes a compelling plot in fine, spare prose' David Isaacson, Daily Telegraph


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (2 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552999253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552999250
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 726,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"'Relentless . . . an impressive and disturbing work of art'" (Robert Nye Literary Review)

"'Precise and compelling . . . maintains a relentless hold on the reader's interest . . . a fable about versions of truth and moral responsibility. It also belongs to a very British tradition: the mapping of non-Europe as a nightmare world in which the European psyche confronts its own dark madness'" (Aamer Hussein Independent)

"'Rendered in prose whose steadiness and transparency throw the dark turbulence of what is happening into damning relief'" (Peter Kemp The Sunday Times)

"'A very gripping story . . . the reader is drawn in inexorably to discover what horror lies at the heart of it . . . an apocalyptic fable for today'" (John Spurling The Times Literary Supplement)

"'Many respectable judges would put Edric in the top ten of British novelists currently at work . . . as a writer, he specialises in the delicate hint and the game not given away'" (D.J. Taylor Spectator)

Book Description

Robert Edric's breakout book, a stunning novel set in colonial Congo

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of Darkness has never been so dark. 10 Aug 2003
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It is 1897, and a motley group of British functionaries is running a concessionary station, only marginally successful, in Ukassa Falls in the Congo Free State, trading and exploring, mapping new areas of the country for further exploration, and using natives to strip minerals from quarries. Individually, however, their primary mission is protecting themselves and their jobs, while keeping an eye on a more lucrative Belgian enterprise across the river and on the slave-trader Hammad, who fancies himself the potential emperor of a future, native-run country. When gunfire signals the arrival of an unexpected visitor, Capt. James Frasier hopes it means the return to British jurisdiction of his friend, Nicholas Frere, who, missing for 51 days in the wilderness, is now in Belgian custody, awaiting trial for killing a native child.
At an agonizingly slow pace, Edric builds the tension and an ominous sense of mystery. His characters come to life through their conversations, conflicts, and actions, rather than through passive descriptions or long biographies. The reader, too, must be active, accumulating important details on his own by observing the action, some of it intense, and participating in it, however reluctantly. Several grim and explicit scenes of atrocity attest to Edric's abhorrence of the mistreatment of indigenous people (the subject also of his novel Elysium, set in Tasmania) and of the destruction of birds and wildlife. His opposition to colonialism, religious fanaticism, mindless bureaucracy, and lock-step adherence to rules and regulations underlies all the action here.
Edric transmutes the wilderness into a living force which dramatically affects all its inhabitants. The river, with its traffic, both unites and divides.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Trial in the Heart of Darkness 26 Mar 2002
Format:Paperback
Intriguing. The Heart of Darkness meets The Trial. Isolated in the heart of the Belgian Congo a group of Europeans eke out an existance for the unnamed company, trading commodities up and down the ever rain swelled river. Subject to unknown conspiracies interlinked with a vague murder charge things begin to fall about. The decline of the trading station throughout the book echoes the growing moral ambiguity, uncertainty and sense of vague but rising menace. The conspiracy is off just off screen, one is always interpreting the shadows of events and trying to slot them together. It has the unnerving nonspecifity of Kafka's Trial, whilst at the same time evoking the moral decay created by strangeness and the distance from civilization.
A dark novel, with the central charcter mostly passive as lives and commerce break apart around him. The book is slow paced, treacle like at times, and can be infuriating at the lack of revelation. Occasionally one just wants the answer, just want a character to say it rather than imply it. The denouement shied away from the blackest of all revelations and was I think the weaker for it. However, overall a satisfying, disturbing dark read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The horror! The horror! 5 Jan 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Turn of the century and the Belgian Congo is on the cusp of independence... scapegoats must be found for the evils colonialism have inflicted. Edric's style evokes the torrid humidity and communicates the disconnection and disillusionment of the displaced Europeans, building to a fine climax. A must read.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Skin deep 11 Jun 2007
By James
Format:Paperback
I had never read anything from this author, and was slightly put off by his close identification with the police thriller genre, one that in my view has been done to death. However, I was seduced into reading this, primarily by its themes and context, and secondly by some rave reviews.
There are some good things here: the plot is tight and well controlled, and you do keep turning the pages (once you get over the initial disappointment that this is not the book it is professed to be), but ultimately, despite the big themes and classic context, it is nothing more than a thriller.
We are compelled to think of Conrad, but this is not in the same league. The narrative is almost exclusively dialogue driven, and the author does little more than relate events. This may be intentional, but is not to be compared to the minimalist style of a genius such as Hemingway, who could evoke an entire range of emotions and sensations in an apparently detached suggestion. There is also no narrative psychological insight; all we learn is through action and dialogue. Far from the sights, smells and sounds of late C19th 'darkest' Africa dripping from every page (as one reviewer ludicrously suggests), there is virtually no attempt at describing atmosphere at all, and any mental picture is 'borrowed' from a reading of Conrad's classic novella.
Good dramatic dialogue; a reasonable plot, but nothing else to recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of Darkness has never been so dark. 13 Nov 2002
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is 1897, and a motley group of British functionaries is running a concessionary station, only marginally successful, in Ukassa Falls in the Congo Free State, trading and exploring, mapping new areas of the country for further exploration, and using natives to strip minerals from quarries. Individually, however, their primary mission is protecting themselves and their jobs, while keeping an eye on a more lucrative Belgian enterprise across the river and on the slave-trader Hammad, who fancies himself the potential emperor of a future, native-run country. When gunfire signals the arrival of an unexpected visitor, Capt. James Frasier hopes it means the return to British jurisdiction of his friend, Nicholas Frere, who, missing for 51 days in the wilderness, is now in Belgian custody, awaiting trial for killing a native child.
At an agonizingly slow pace, Edric builds the tension and an ominous sense of mystery. Though he readily admits his guilt, Frere refuses to defend himself, simply accepting whatever fate has in store. He is almost certain to be turned over to local authorities in Brazzaville for trial and hanging, eventually, but he will not tell anyone, even Frasier, the circumstances of the child's death.
Edric's characters come to life through their conversations, conflicts, and actions, rather than through passive descriptions or long biographies. The reader, too, must be active, accumulating important details on his own by observing the action, some of it intense, and participating in it, however reluctantly. Several grim and explicit scenes of atrocity attest to Edric's abhorrence of the mistreatment of indigenous people (the subject also of his novel Elysium, set in Tasmania) and of the destruction of birds and wildlife. His opposition to colonial arrogance, religious fanaticism, mindless bureaucracy, and lock-step adherence to rules and regulations underlies all the action here.
Describing the wilderness as "more permanent and invincible than anything else I can imagine, something as potent and as indestructible as evil or truth itself," Edric transmutes it into a living force which dramatically affects all its inhabitants. The river, with its traffic, both unites and divides, and when, at flood tide, it scours its banks and destroys pilings and jetties, one cannot help but see parallels with the interrogations of the steadfast Frere. Images of light and dark and echoes of Heart of Darkness are constant, and when "the horror" is finally revealed at the end, it out-horrors anything Conrad ever dreamed of. With a conclusion full of literary pyrotechnics, this is a chilling recreation of the worst nightmares of colonialism and of man's inhumanity to man. Mary Whipple
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but Edric is no Graham Greene. 17 July 2003
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a story of the Congo, before WWI. It takes place at a remote British trading station in decline. The protagonist, while not nave, is inexperienced. Most of the British, especially the protagonist, are decent people, while the Congo itself is the home of depravity. The main character, while intellectually very astute, is also inexperienced, and has a fatal interest in, even attraction, to aspects of this depravity. Had Graham Greene written this book, the story would have delved deeply into the psychology of this character, but Edric is not up to such a task as a writer. What we have is a competently written story. While there are some sensational events, most of the story proceeds at a leisurely pace, while still being interesting. Edric is good with dialogue and in capturing the atmosphere. I wonder if the main event isn't too sensational, and not realistic, or at least not representative of the Congo, but for the most part Edric writes in an understated way, without loss of effect.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing 6 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
while there were many interesting elements in the story and the telling of the tale, my feeling is that this book would have made a much better short story than full-on novel. there is far too much "filler" and when i finished the book and looked back on what actually happened, i realised that the only parts that i found grabbed me were at the very beginning and the very end. the middle part was just transportation to where the story picks up again.
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