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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Book From Boyd
Once again Boyd brings together unrelated topics, interesting settings, and full characters to create a story that's utterly absorbing and hard to pigeonhole. Narrated by Hope Clearwater (an unfortunately clunky name for a protagonist), the story looks back at two traumatic times in her life, as she attempts to make sense of them. One of these storylines begins with the...
Published on 12 Nov 2003 by A. Ross

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chimps Are the Best Characters
Those interested in chimpanzees and their complex social behavior are urged to read BRAZZAVILLE BEACH, where the powerful alpha-male Darius, starved for female companionship, leads patrols of knuckle-walking extermination in the territory of a neighboring chimp clan. In the novel's final pages, the story of these murderous chimps culminates in a surprising act of rescue...
Published on 5 Dec 2009 by Ethan Cooper


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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Book From Boyd, 12 Nov 2003
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
Once again Boyd brings together unrelated topics, interesting settings, and full characters to create a story that's utterly absorbing and hard to pigeonhole. Narrated by Hope Clearwater (an unfortunately clunky name for a protagonist), the story looks back at two traumatic times in her life, as she attempts to make sense of them. One of these storylines begins with the completion of her dissertation and her subsequent marriage to a brilliant but troubled mathematician. The other storyline concerns her work some years later at a chimpanzee research center in an unnamed African country (presumably Congo). Both of these threads revolve around the quest for knowledge and the mania that quest can result in, and both are compelling. The latter is especially gripping, containing elements of a thriller within its arc, and the backdrop of civil war. Boyd consulted extensively with Jane Goodall in his research for the book, and the result is a vividly realistic portrait of a tiny international scientific community, complete with petty jealousies and massive egos.
It's difficult to write about this book and do it proper justice. So much of it is about Hope's internal struggles about her life, and the difficulties of being married to someone who is greatly flawed. She makes a good feminist character, strong but not pushy, intelligent but not snobby, often conflicted about what the best course of action is, and sometimes mistaken. Her struggle for respect in both the personal and professional realms is at the heart of the book, and is a theme with wide resonance. It's one of the best cases of a man writing in a woman's voice I can recollect. All the characters that surround Hope, even the most insignificant, are carefully crafted and rich in texture. From her Egyptian mercenary lover, to her charismatic project leader and his frigid wife, to her powerful academic advisor, and the volleyball coach turned rebel—each rings true. The novel is not perfect, there are a few minor flaws, such as a contrivance whereby Hope is never able to take photos proving her observations. On the whole though, it's another very solid, and eminently readable work from Boyd.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A stunning multi-dimensional read, 1 Mar 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
I cannot believe I'm the first person to review such an excellent book which really should be on any list of potential modern classics
The book follows the life of ecologist Hope Clearwater and is simultaneously set at three different stages in her recent life - her marriage to an egg-head boffin mathematician whilst she studies ancient hedgerows, her time studying chimpanzees in a major African ecological project and finally her life 'on the beach' reviewing her life.
Interspersed between these three layers are occasional insights into the world of higher mathematics.
If that sounds confusing be assured that it isn't. I found this a fascinating read and was most surprised that the author managed to keep the links between all layers running so smoothly without causing confusion.
The mental breakdown of her husband and her relationship with him, finds numerous parallels in the breakdown of relationships between the two rival tribes of chimps. In all cases Hope is battling against others who don't respect her work or, in the case of the head of the chimp project, are actively seeking to discredit her findings.
The characters are beautifully portrayed especially her husband who finds solace and inspiration digging ditches in unlikely places, her lover who builds horsefly aeroplanes (well worth the read for that alone) and the 'rebel leader' and his band of volleyball playing 'soldiers' who inadvertently kidnap Hope (and find it quite difficult to get rid of her).
I recommend this highly
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding, 9 Aug 2002
By 
Kitten (Nottingham / GB) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
A friend of mine lent me this over a year ago, and it had been gathering dust. The synopsis on the cover didn't entice me at all....not many people would be into primates, higher maths, Africa. To cut a long story short I picked it up because I had nothing else to read. I had to stay up all night.....it is a fantastic storyline, pure and simple. There are so many threads to this, and even the seemingly highbrow mathematical references weave in and out of the story seamlessly. The chimp storyline has a shocking and distressing denouement...read it, you won't be disappointed. "Brazzaville Beach" will definitely enter my list of top 10 all time fave reads.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic boyd, 7 Jan 2009
By 
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This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
I re-read this book after several years; it has more than stood the test of time. It is hard to describe the book, which is probably why the cover-notes are so misleading. Easier to describe what there is to enjoy. The writing is intelligent and provocative. The meandering story lines are littered with esoteric but fascinating details from many areas of the natural sciences. This is not the subject of the book, however. The real subject is about self perception. Boyd is the master of observing how people react to one another in banal or tense situations. The book is about a young, intelligent zoologist whose life is dictated by her own impetuous decisions. She doesn't know what she wants, but defines herself by what she doesn't want: the ordinary, dull and dependent life. As a result she is in perpetual conflict with her family, husband, colleagues and friends. Even escape to Africa finds her relationships loaded with tension and suspicion. A brilliant study which is never dull and where the several stories wound into one, keep you wondering what will happen till the final page.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful and poignant book about Hope, 31 Mar 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
Boyd really came into his own with this book - a multi-layered exploration of the nature of relationships, mental health and higher maths, mixed with African scenery and painful memories. We follow the life of Hope Clearwater, a biologist/botanist who falls in love with a tortured mathematician - an all too believable character whose limited glimpses into the deeper truth of maths sends him into despair when the glimpses become more fleeting and incomplete. Written as an interconnected series of memories and events, you are effortlessly transported to a different country and a civil war that encompasses the ludicrous nature of some African conflicts. The characterisation and dialogue is effortless and complete, leaving you with the events and personal histories of Hope swirling around your mind for a long time after you put the book down Mixed into the pot is the enormous ego of the head of the chimpanzee research project for which she works,(often mirrored by the behaviour of the researchers themselves) a thought-provoking insight into animal group behaviour, and poignant explorations of the nature of despair and ultimately redemption. Finding a degree of hapiness with Osman, a fighter pilot for hire who creates insect and paper flying machines, and who ultimately disappears, leaves Hope on Brazzaville Beach, pondering the nature of her strange and often beautiful life. I defy anyone to read this book and not be carried along by the wonderful and elegant prose style, the content and the wonderful story. A page turner that conceals a lot of deeper meanings, and my most borrowed (and recommended) book. Buy it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chimps Are the Best Characters, 5 Dec 2009
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
Those interested in chimpanzees and their complex social behavior are urged to read BRAZZAVILLE BEACH, where the powerful alpha-male Darius, starved for female companionship, leads patrols of knuckle-walking extermination in the territory of a neighboring chimp clan. In the novel's final pages, the story of these murderous chimps culminates in a surprising act of rescue and revenge, which is satisfying but impossibly pat. Nonetheless, this monkey-business is definitely within Boyd's narrative reach and he produces a troubling story, suggesting there is brutality and evilness innate in the hominid family, which forces people to choose.

In contrast, Boyd's handling of his major human characters is less satisfying. IMHO, two of these characters--Eugene Mallabar, a primate research star, and Dr. Amiclar, a civilized soldier and boyish nationalist--are transparent from the get-go and never evolve. This means that, as narrative presences, they never really surprise.

Meanwhile, Boyd never quite delivers with Hope, a novice primate researcher, and John, a genius mathematician. Reason: Their issues and natures clearly emerge only after they are labeled by other characters. John's plight, for example, clarifies when a physician provides a diagnosis. What am I saying? Boyd never fully animates these characters; they depend on commentary to attain clarity.

In fairness, I acknowledge that Boyd does offer a character--the pilot Usman--who is not transparent and whose actions are not explained until the novel's very end. But Usman, a schemer and contrast to Dr. Amiclar, surprises through a plot twist, not because Boyd finds new depth in his character.

BRAZZAVILLE BEACH is a highly balanced literary machine. There is a chimp war and a human war, abstract mathematical research and concrete primate research, idealists and schemers, boringly conventional human families and boring monkey families. Fur-thermore, Hope never quite attains a believable female voice, making her seem very male, even though Boyd constantly has her getting in and out of female clothing. Even so, balance does not a great novel make.

Those who read BRAZZAVILLE BEACH to the end will be rewarded with a surprising and touching philosophical sadness, which shows Hope depressed by her actions as she is drawn into two wars. It's a terrific ending, with posttraumatic stress disorder dulling her instincts as she waits at the beach for her man.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monkey business meets men and mathematics, 12 Jun 2011
By 
S. Marsden (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
William Boyd is new to me, but I wouldn't hesitate to read him again. Very verbose, pacy writing that transports you easily to a nature reserve somewhere in Africa, a hedgerow somewhere in Dorset (although I think his knowledge of the train stations down our way is badly out of line; John Clearwater really must be nuts if he keeps getting off the train at Exeter expecting to meet Hope - surely she would be better off picking him up in Poole/Bournemouth or Dorchester?)and the airy corridors of a university science department.

Geographical lapses aside, I'd agree with those reviewers who pointed out that Hope is really not a believable female protagonist. Throughout the novel I was struck not only by how male her voice and actions are, but also how her character and personality are really only ever seen in the eyes of the men her life seems to be guided by; even the sex scenes focus on male bodies and male perceptions of Hope. It came across like a failed attempt to understand the modern woman, and it reminded me greatly of Emma Goldman's warning that we must be careful not to lose the sense of love and empathy that tends to set us apart from men.

Otherwise Brazzaville Beach really is a brilliant fusion of philosophy (which is what ultimately unites the three plotlines), story and miscellany that 99% of readers really won't regret picking up. One of those novels that you devour in days although it certainly requires concentration as the prose flips fluidly between Hope's memories.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'There', he said, 'that's that sorted out', 10 Aug 2013
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
Wouldn't it be good if we could discover what the writer thinks of their own work - which novel gave them the greatest satisfaction on placing the final full-stop, just ... there.
We know the outline of the story from the 'Product Description' - the story of Hope Clearwater, a 40-something research assistant whose work involves observing the behaviour patterns of chimpanzees in the bush - off Congo Brazzaville during the Civil War in the 60's. But the second story concerns what happened in her marriage to Dr John Clearwater in the UK.
The great thing about Boyd's writing is that he regards the process not only as an investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language. Add to this his constant psychological emphasis, or his insistence in this instance of tossing in a variety of themes related to the story - Turbulence (46) Divergence Syndrome (75) Fermat's Last Theorem (130) Happiness (163) Cruelty (180) Time etc. then we clearly have the ingredients for a novel that is in so many ways, special.
'Suspense' is brought about not only by what happens in the war, but by Hope's research findings which run contrary to the published conclusions of her boss ... But this kind of suspense is as of nothing to Boyd who, in page 240, throws in a thrilling 'Cliff-hanger'. (A nod of appreciation here to Thomas Hardy's 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' perhaps? - where Henry Knight clings by his fingertips to the surface of a cliff, and the only way for Elfride to rescue him is to take her clothes off to make a 'rope'. MEN: I'm reliably advised; there are safer ways of achieving one's aims ...)
The novel alternates between 1st and 3rd person - 'I am Hope Clearwater' - 'She is Hope Clearwater'. (His recent 'Waiting for Sunrise' starts and finishes in 2nd person - 'You' are the observer) The ease with which he applies his technique makes Boyd very much a teacher of his craft, 'a writer's writer' in fact, while throughout, he keeps to the idea of his Frontispiece, 'The unexamined life is not worth living' - Socrates. In the final movement of his 'Variations on a theme of Socrates (344) three questions are asked: What can I know? What ought I to do? And what may I hope for? 'What can I know? - Nothing for sure. What ought I to do? - Try not to hurt anyone. What may I hope for? - For the best. (But it won't make any difference) There, he said, that's that sorted out'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars astonishing, erudite, and a joy to read, 9 April 2010
By 
Jamie Gray (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
This is probably one of the best books William Boyd has ever written. One of his greatest strengths as a writer is never patronising his audience or stooping to the lowest common denominator. You get sucked into the cleverly interwoven storylines, each of which are immensely believable and true to life. Characters are fleshed out and environments carefully portrayed down to the finest detail.

Boyd uses the chimpanzee metaphor to perfection. Everyone will draw parallels between the demise of Hope & John's relationship and the degeneration of the tribe into anarchy. Of course, there is one powerful overriding argument emanating from this fine book: the implication that

1. The chimps display extremely tribal behaviour at Grosso Arvore, and are capable of murder to defend their hierarchy
2. We are evolutionarily related to chimps
3. To murder is not inhuman

A compelling read, and worth anyone's time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good until we reach the end, 17 Oct 2009
By 
Jl Adcock "John Adcock" (Ashtead UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
Following "The New Confessions" was always going to be a tough job for William Boyd. Where do you go when you've covered the whole of the 20th century in a novel? The answer - with Brazzaville Beach - was to explore new narratives and quite complex themes of what it is to be human, and the link between science, numbers and the apparent randomness of events.

Like some other reviewers here, I have re-read this novel after some time, and find it still held my interest. Typically for Boyd, it's well-written, thoughtful, and covers subjects you don't normally expect to find that accessible in novels. But the female narrative device doesn't always convince, and the swapping to and fro between first and third person, events past and present, adds a choppy and uneven nature to the book.

The African setting is - as you'd expect from someone who lived on that continent - beautifully and convincingly conveyed. Whilst the ending might be a bit of let down, Boyd demonstrates more than anything in this novel that he can write about virtually any subject he turns his hand to. Impressive, perhaps even under-stated, but still a fine read.
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Brazzaville Beach
Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd (Paperback - 25 Jun 2009)
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