When lounging by the pool in Thailand on holiday in March, recovering from Pilates classes, I read an eclectic set of books. Half of a yellow sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was one of them. Having really enjoyed her other novels (see my blogs on Americanah and Dublin reading), I had saved the most famous until last and this seemed like a good time to focus on it.
For such a hard-hitting subject – the Nigeria-Biafran war of 1967-70 – it is a very easy book to read. It is so well written you are immediately immersed in the world of these characters. The pre civil war optimism of twin sisters Olanna and Kainene is infectious as they face a bright future in a country full of energy and hope. Their stories are interweaved with the lives of Ugwu, a 13 year old houseboy who lands a great job in an intellectual’s house where he is treated with respect as he learns his craft, and Richard, an ex-pat Englishman who loves Nigeria, it’s art and its people.
The novel follows these characters into the war and shows us the impact it has on them and their families. Its the first time I remember reading such an insider perspective on a conflict like this. Not knowing any of the facts, as I expect is the case for many readers, I was really conscious of being expertly made to follow the events day-by-day as the characters have to, rather than getting a bird’s eye view perspective of war told with the benefit of hindsight. This gives it a realism, and a sense of what it is like for normal lives caught up in historical events, that you rarely get.
A different class of murder: the story of Lord Lucan by Laura Thompson was entirely different. It went on my reading list when I saw articles in the press a few weeks ago about Lord Lucan’s heir being granted the right to use his father’s title, which made me realise I knew nothing about the famous disappearance in 1974. I had previously enjoyed this author’s biography of Agatha Christie and this didn’t disappoint.
What’s really good about this book is how much time is spent on the years that went before the murder of Sandra Rivett and the attack on the Countess of Lucan. They explain the context of who Lord Lucan was, exploring the ins and outs of his troubled marriage, his gambling addiction and his group of friends. Once you get to the crime itself, you have a much better understanding of the intrigue that swirls around this case, whether Lucan was or was not guilty, and the various theories of what happened to him after his disappearance. Sandra Rivett and her family are clearly the victims of this, but you can’t help also feeling sorry for the adult Lucan children, not least having to deal with an awful relationship with their narcissistic mother on top of the notoriety of their father.
Whilst it left me pretty sure about his guilt, whether he committed the attack himself, or got someone else to, it left me none the wiser about what really happened after the attack. Theories about taxis in the night to airports in Kent were attractive if you want a less straightforward ending to the one that has Lucan jumping off a channel ferry. Wherever you end up, it’s certainly an intriguing read.