Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Brazzaville Beach” as Want to Read:
Brazzaville Beach
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Brazzaville Beach

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  3,496 Ratings  ·  270 Reviews
“Utterly engaging….A novel of ideas, of big themes….William Boyd is a champion storyteller.” - New York Times Book Review

William Boyd’s classic Brazzaville Beach has been called as a “bold seamless blend of philosophy and suspense… [that] nevertheless remains accessible to general readers on a level of pure entertainment.” (Boston Globe). Released to coincide with Boyd’s l
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 29th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published 1990)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Brazzaville Beach, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Brazzaville Beach

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
I delighted in this book because it tells a compelling human story with a rich framework of ideas that appeal to me. The tale is of a woman, Hope Clearwater, reflecting back on her work and marriage in England to a mathematician and her work and life studying chimp behavior in the Republic of Congo, both of which ended in disaster. She is unable to move forward without making some sense out of the wisdom vs. stupidities in her role in the disasters. As quoted from Socrates in the epilogue and cl ...more
Oh my, this book is hard to explain.

First of all, it IS engaging. I didn't want to stop listening. It is full of information. It keeps you thinking, and it doesn't necessarily provide answers. Definitely four stars.

It starts and ends with the line "The unexamined life is not worth living." I guess you would have to classify this as a cerebral novel, but also the parts set in Africa are dramatic; one thing happens after another - a civil war and infanticide and aggression and cannibalism and mu
switterbug (Betsey)
Like his 2012 book, WAITING FOR SUNRISE, Boyd employed a complex structure in this 1990 novel about science and discord, both marital and professional. Structure and the sciences are the glue for connecting the themes and metaphors of his overall story, a device for annexing separate compartments of the narrative and cohering it into a whole. Once you let that be, or let it go, and stop worrying if you are comprehending all the pieces while reading it, you can enjoy this compelling piece of fict ...more
Dec 18, 2012 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many years before Brazzaville Beach was ever published, William Blake published this well-known poem as part of his Songs of Experience: “Tyger, tyger burning bright/ In the forests of the night;/What immortal hand or eye/ Could flame thy fearful symmetry?” Blake, who was overwhelmed by the beauty and horrors of the natural world, saw nature as a place for our own growth, in preparation for the beginning of our lives.

Why the longish preface about Blake? Brazzaville Beach is, to some degree, abou
May 13, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Brazzaville Beach tells the stories of Hope Clearwater. It covers two periods, telling them in parallel although one follows the other chronologically. Each period comes to a dramatic conclusion. The book builds to deliver both conclusions as close together as the narrative allows. There are themes that recur in Hope's experiences. There is anger, violence, madness, conspiracy. There is violence instigated by academics, and tenderness provided by soldiers.

So far I've described a complex structur
Alan Wells
Jul 18, 2011 Alan Wells rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A touching and wrenching tale of a woman's experiences in her personal life and career, with a backstory set in Africa. Hope Clearwater faces many challenges with her work as a scientist - much of the time observing chimpanzees near a remote, academic camp in Africa, as well as the emotional upheavals in her marriage to an eccentric mathematician. With a wide variety of settings, quirkiness, and unsettling events, the reader is given a unique glimpse into Hope's unfailingly human reactions to th ...more
Aug 25, 2011 Jules rated it really liked it
A thought-provoking and well-paced read that ponders what separates humans from animals -- our capacity for compassion and for cruelty -- and questions whether some of the boundaries are perhaps blurrier than we'd expect.

Boyd has a talent for immersing the reader in an exotic or unfamiliar topic in his books, and I found myself completely absorbed by the details of Hope's work with the chimpanzees (and only a bit less so with John's work on mathematics). The structure of the book, broken into lo
Apr 09, 2012 TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes stories set in Africa
Hope Clearwater, the protagonist of William Boyd’s novel, Brazzaville Beach is a young English ethologist who’s come to the Grosso Arvore Research Center in central Africa to make a study of chimpanzees and to forget her broken marriage to a brilliant mathematician back home. In this engrossing book, Boyd very deftly braids three story strands: Hope’s present day life on Brazzaville Beach; Hope’s former life in England with her husband John; and Hope’s recent experiences at Grosso Arvore, and he ...more
Nigel Bird
Jun 27, 2013 Nigel Bird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brazzaville Beach is a tremendous novel.
Right from the beginning it has the feel of something rather unusual and for me there was a definite double-take moment when I realised I’d found my place.
It’s centred around 2 main aspects of Hope Clearwater’s life, her time with her husband in the UK and her time without in Africa.
The drive of the plot centres around Hope’s work observing chimpanzees in the world’s leading scientific project on the subject of the animals. She’s cottoned on to the fact th
Cailin Deery
Nov 10, 2013 Cailin Deery rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been meaning to read Boyd for awhile now and this one presented a tenuous link to King Leopold's Ghost: the beach gets its name from one of Henry Morton Stanley's contemporaries (de Brazza) and its main narrative is set in a chimpanzee research preserve within the Congolese jungle. More of a segue than a link, and any similarities end there.

The story opens in Brazzaville where the main character, Hope Clearwater, is working as an ethologist studying primate behaviour. During her time obser
Jul 11, 2009 Hanny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If this book hadn't been recommended by a friend who loved it, I probably wouldn't have read the whole book. I had a difficult time getting into the story, but I stuck with it and was glad I did. The main character of the book is Hope Clearwater, an English woman, who is studying the behavior of chimpanezes in Africa.
Her story is told by moving back and forth from past to present, which I thought was very well done by the talented Mr. Boyd. The subject matter of the brutality of the animals was
Dec 11, 2008 Iz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: awards-or-prizes
I couldn't put this book down. I connected on a weird level, maybe because I myself worked with monkeys in Africa, maybe because I see myself turning into Hope Clearwater in a couple of years, with all her scientific-minded cynicism, even though the writing style wasn't my favourite. I didn't mind the constant flip between first and third person narration. I found the part of the story before she goes to Africa (her husband's madness) incredibly boring, but I loved how the story shows that it th ...more
Despite its heading trappings, I couldn't say I was moved by the novel and its examination of nature and science, its flourish of systems and the inexplicable margins where our emotions have left us stranded.

My wife was listening to RadioLab and I mentioned this novel. We discused territory and trespass. The consequences explored in the novel are grim. There's some terror in the feral.
Dillwynia Peter
Apr 02, 2014 Dillwynia Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the 2nd book I have read in the past 12 months that use the rebellion and tensions associated with the Republic of the Congo (the other being The Poisonwood Bible) Both are written by Caucasians and both spent part of their childhoods in Africa. I think this is part of the success of both these books for me.

Running concurrently is the story of Hope's marriage and her time as a behavioural scientist on chimpaneze. As a result of the 1st person narrative, we don't fully understand, until t
This is enjoyable light literary fiction about Hope Clearwater, a chimpanzee researcher in civil war torn Africa. Whilst relaxing on Brazzaville Beach, watching the waves crash randomly on the sand, Hope reminisces about her recent rather dramatic history. The story switches back and forth between her study of the apes with its attendant scientific disputes among colleagues and her previous life when married to a brilliant but very troubled mathematician back in England. The civil war is always ...more
Mar 15, 2010 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I just finished this and am not totally sure what to think. I thought it was really well written and the characters and setting were all interesting. The book travels through three time periods in the main character's life and I thought this was really well done. Also, as a primatologist, I was impressed with the author's portrayal of primatology. He must have done some serious research!

Here's why I am not sure what to think about the book in the end, though. I felt like there is some deeper me
Feb 28, 2014 Bella rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Why did I need to know that? What is the message the author is trying to convey? I never could answer those questions, and neither could my book club. Hope is almost compassionless and I couldn't relate to her, or anyone else in the book. The jumping between time frames was disorienting. I truly don't understand all the rave reviews. I don't need to enjoy the content of a book to like it but there has to be something - a compelling story or interesting characters. I couldn't find anything to lik ...more
Mar 26, 2013 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was excellent. Three stories from one woman's life, all to do with the men she had met and their reactions to the realisation that they were fallible. He looks at different facets of science and whether it is possible to find the ultimate proof of a theory, or whether the search for that proof will eventually destroy you. Brilliantly written, both a page turner and a serious examination of the ideas above. To top it off, I always come away from William Boyd wanting to visit Africa, and see ...more
Jul 24, 2011 Hayes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, different. Not at all what I was expecting, which in this case is a Good Thing.

RTF Never did review this, and now I can remember only that it was strange, in a good way, and that I liked it.
Mar 06, 2014 Bettie☯ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC7 listeners
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ruth Seeley
May 12, 2010 Ruth Seeley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lablit
One of my all-time favourite works of contemporary fiction. I would so love to write the screenplay for the movie that begs to be made from this novel.
Jacki (Julia Flyte)
I quite enjoyed this book about Hope Clearwater, a woman working in Africa on a chimpanzee research project, but I didn't love it. The fact that I didn't love it is not connected to my lack of interest in chimpanzees (it overcame that very successfully). It's a book that showcases not only what is terrific about William Boyd's writing, but also all the things that I don't like about it.

The positives: it feels very real. If you told me that William Boyd spent three years working in Africa, I'd pr
Rachel Deeming
Nov 22, 2016 Rachel Deeming rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This has to be one of the most disturbing books that I have ever read. Tense throughout, it tells the story of Hope, a researcher into the behaviour of chimpanzees in Africa in the present whilst simultaneously skipping back to her life with her university professor husband so that the two stories run side by side through the narrative. My description doesn't make it sound particularly tense, I know but it is in the descriptions of her observations of the chimpanzees where the uncomfortable read ...more
Pam Boardman
Oct 28, 2016 Pam Boardman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very unusual book, at the beginning I found it to be hard to read. This was because there are 3 stories at different times, and sometimes I didn't know what time zone I was in. However I got used to it and began to enjoy it. When she was studying the lives of the chimpanzees the story was gripping . Also the story of her husband and how his mathematic research affected him was well written
Jan 04, 2017 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated the mix of natural science/wildlife observation, institutional dynamics, settings in Africa and England, and philosophical/mathematical musings woven through this interesting story. My only complaint is that sometimes I could tell this was a man writing a woman's perspective. However, all in all, a great read, with a viciously powerful ending.
Russell Bittner
Dec 28, 2014 Russell Bittner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the many things I can say about William Boyd’s writing – and Brazzaville Beach – is my sixth foray into ‘Boyd’s Woods’ – is that there are always little gems to be mined, hunted, maybe even bagged. “(T)he last thing we ever learn about ourselves is our effect (on others),” on p. 102, is just such a gem.

I think it’s always risky to conjecture what a writer had in mind when (s)he set out to compose a work, but I’ll risk it here nonetheless. When, on p. 28, we first learn that humans and
Lukasz Pruski
Jan 11, 2014 Lukasz Pruski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
William Boyd's "Brazzaville Beach" has been exhaustively discussed and reviewed during the 23 years since it was published. It has served as book club fare probably thousands of times. Everybody who has read it has an opinion on what the novel is about. Some say it is about scientists being only human. Others say it is about the similarities between chimpanzee and human behavior. One arrogant bozo, trying to ride the fashionable bandwagon, even posits the book is about "emancipation of women". B ...more
Hélène Wilkinson
A bit too disconnected for me

This book started promisingly in the African jungle, then carried on with several flashbacks in the UK interspersed with further live action in Africa ... and kind of lost me along the way. I think my problem was that I had trouble joining up the dots in the story.

The heroine’s adventures with the chimps, together with the one she faces later on in the novel didn’t connect in any meaningful way for me with her previous life in England, with her mathematician husband
Sep 22, 2016 John rated it really liked it
A really interesting novel centering on whether men, and primates, are violent by nature. We all seem to do crazy things. The main character is involved in a chimpanzee study in Africa and gets in the middle of wars between chimps, wars between local people and conflicts in marriage and work. Great story lines and cast of interesting characters.
Dec 30, 2014 Travelin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: started
Here's where I'll probably stop, page 244.

Finding this book was a marvelous and strange coincidence. It was one of two or three English books from a lonely, hodgepodge street seller at a quite remote metro stop in Sofia, Bulgaria. It's lucky and strange that I found this fictional reminder that alleged chimpanzee pacifity in The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal -- another Bulgarian treasure -- is badly misinformed.

It seems as if William Boyd would do very well to write nonficti
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Catastrophist
  • Three Weeks in December
  • Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone
  • Sacred Country
  • Absolution
  • Segu (Ségou, #1)
  • Tales of an African Vet
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo
  • The Sweet Shop Owner
  • Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure
  • White Mischief
  • King of the City
  • The Sculptors of Mapungubwe
  • The Lower River
  • Malaria Dreams: An African Adventure
  • The Fanatic
  • Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit

Of Scottish descent, Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana on 7th March, 1952 and spent much of his early life there and in Nigeria where his mother was a teacher and his father, a doctor. Boyd was in Nigeria during the Biafran War, the brutal secessionist conflict which ran from 1967 to 1970 and it had a profound effect on him.

At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray
More about William Boyd...

Share This Book

“The last thing we learn about ourselves is our effect.” 13 likes
“I have teken refuge in the doctrine that advises one not to seek tranquility in certainty but in permanently suspended judgement.” 5 likes
More quotes…