Even if I did not purchase this novel which appeared on the Booker Longlist because it was written by a guy who worked for local Fairfax papers The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age, and if the back cover blurb and first chapter did not indicate that the main character had worked as a foreign correspondent on the Dark Continent, it would still be bleedingly obvious that this guy worked as a journalist.
His prose is so pared down that to give depth to his descriptions, he has to slot in tired adjective after tired adjective to the “scene setting” description that dutifully appear at the start and end of each episode. The dialogue is heavy and inane. The protagonist and his several Caucasian sexual interests are a dull lot. But O’Loughlin posits them as heroic. They nearly all have a kind of freckled, Nordic boyishness, and ability to withstand the horrors of massacre, be it in Serbia or Rwanda whilst providing maternal sympathy. His male quirky journalistic rivals seem like underdone versions of the harebrained characters in Roald Dahl’s Going Solo who have cheerily lost their marbles, but this charm does not flourish into anything resembling actual people. The African public servants and militia are unsurprisingly inscrutable and serve the purpose of getting in the way of getting a the goods behind the makings of a good story. Similarly, several incidences of intrigue, for instance a gradual psychotic episode and scene involving the disposal of a body are flat, and lack the ebb and flow and climax required for real drama.