This book seems to have taken up residence on my bedside table for an inordinate amount of time; partly because my evening reading habits changed when I was gifted a wonderful resource of 1970s Military Modelling magazine - thanks again to the 'Provost Marshal'. More recently, I've just been too ‘dog-tired’ to read more than a couple of pages before the lids of my eyes snapped shut with the force of a bear trap!
Returning to the Book of the Heathen, which is set in and around an isolated trading station in the Belgian Congo of 1897. The book owes much to Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' and addresses similar themes of misplaced loyalty, crumbling Imperialism and the manipulation of Christianity by those seeking to take power in the vacuum created when the colonial powers fall away. The story revolves around a man who is awaiting trial for the murder of a native child, but there is a darker secret that needs to be unlocked and the narrative draws together the various characters and weaves a complex yet plausible relationship between them all.
It has been sometime since I have felt so disturbed by a passage of literature as I was during the closing stages of this novel; the final realisation as to why Frere will ultimately find himself alone as his peers jostle for the moral high ground. There is no question that this is a slow burner, but it is a believable and intense tale and manages to capture the isolation and faded dreams that must have been commonplace at this point in history.
My opinion of Robert Edric's tale is probably unfavourably tarnished by the fact that it took so long for me to finish it, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact this is a very good book and well worth investigating if you enjoy the era in which it is set; a favourable three crowns.