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Brazzaville Beach

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  5,126 ratings  ·  383 reviews
In the heart of a civil war-torn African nation, primate researcher Hope Clearwater made a shocking discovery about apes and man . . .

Young, alone, and far from her family in Britain, Hope Clearwater contemplates the extraordinary events that left her washed up like driftwood on Brazzaville Beach. It is here, on the distant, lonely outskirts of Africa, where she must come
ebook, 320 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Harper Perennial (first published September 2nd 1990)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  5,126 ratings  ·  383 reviews

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Glenn Russell

Brazzaville Beach - literary novel as absorbing page-turner. William Boyd proves himself master of the craft - so much drama, so much suspense.

The skinny: twentysomething Hope Clearwater lives on Brazzaville Beach in West Africa, recovering from two major shocks in her life. The first relates to her former husband back in England, an accomplished mathematician by the name of John Clearwater, a man obsessed and driven to formulate groundbreaking equations within the fields of game theory and turb
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brazzaville Beach is a well-plotted novel about science, war and ideas, following the adventures of Hope Clearwater in England and the Congo.
Of chimps and humans...

As Hope Clearwater sits on the beach outside her home in the Republic of the Congo, she looks back over the circumstances of her life that have brought her here: her marriage to mathematician John Clearwater, and her later work at Grosso Arvore, a chimpanzee research project run by the world-famous primate expert, Eugene Mallabar. The two stories, though separate, have the common theme of the pursuit of scientific fame and the toll that can take on those who fail. There ar
switterbug (Betsey)
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
When the novel opens, Hope Clearwater is living in a house on Brazzaville Beach that she owns as a result of her Egyptian lover's death in the civil war in the Congo. She is reflecting on the complexities of her life over the last two years and recuperating from being taken hostage by the rebels. Hope is trying to figure out all that's happened to her, both in England with her husband and the events that caused her to flee to a new job in Africa, and the challenges she's faced since then. How mu ...more
Alan Wells
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Boyd is an inventive story teller, making this a fast and enjoyable read. He neatly threads in ideas that were newly emerging when he wrote it (1990) about chaos theory. It’s fascinating and impressive to see how artists incorporate new ideas from math and physics. Those disciplines are so totally committed to remaining indifferent to the greater implications of their discoveries. Artists like Boyd find kernels of truth dropped from the trees are are quick to ingest them!
“ The most dissipative
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Something about this is not working. I don’t quite know what it is. He writes well and has won many awards, and this is much better than the other Boyd I read. Still...,

The first-person narrator is a female. And so that’s a bit of, especially the sex scenes. Her husband is a mathematical genius who is going insane, but the writer thinks that 2+2=4 is an axiom (it is a theorem).

Anyway, a failed experiment, this Boyd... for me, at least.
Sep 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Dillwynia Peter
Mar 10, 2014 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
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am thrilled to have discovered William Boyd. Loved, Any Human Heart, and now this. At the end he discusses this novel and how it emerged and said his first title was The Chimpanzee Wars. I’m so glad he changed that because I never would have picked it up being completely freaked out by monkeys of any kind.

The study of chimpanzees in Africa by the scientist Hope Clearwater becomes the theme for human society as well as the vehicle for the end of her innocence. Three or four different plots in h
Jul 11, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 13, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
A thought-provoking and atmospheric story, wonderfully narrated on audio by Harriet Walter.
John called it the For-want-of-a-nail syndrome. For want of a nail the battle was lost. Something small suddenly becomes hugely enlarged. Something calm suddenly becomes enraged. Something flowing smoothly in one instant becomes turbulent. How or why does this happen? What if, John said, there are small perturbations that we miss or ignore; tiny irritations that we regard as fundamentally inconsequential. These small perturbations may have large consequences. In science, so in life.
James Aura
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent fiction on several levels.... zoology, marital relations, mental health, competition among scientists, woven into a story about chimp researchers during an African civil war. Some great ingredients, nicely woven together into a thought provoking tale.
Nigel Bird
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Andy Weston
Feb 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all
Another top Boyd novel with fantastic setting - female heroine on this occasion - as a male he writes very well for her
Susan Stuber
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I suppose that the message of this book is how ironic it is that humans avidly study chimpanzees, presumptiously thinking that they are less intelligent than themselves, only to find, on closer inspection, (see the mad scientists, the ridiculous wars, the wanton cruelty), that humans, while maybe more "intelligent," are by no means "better" creatures.
This premise is interesting and could make a good book. But I find this one is lacking in empathy, either for the chimpanzees or for any of the oth
I told my uncle I needed a book I could disappear in, and he lended me this one. I loved every page of it, being so fascinating and urging me to read the next. I never read a book I can compare to this story but I really do hope I will.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read

Boyd has the ability to tell a story with great sensitivity and intelligence while driving the narrative forward in an exciting way, never patronising his reader. This novel is no exception.
Jane Watson
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ah, another great book from William Boyd! This one was quite different from his others - all about ecology and chimpanzee studies, set in Africa and a side story in the UK. The main character, Hope Clearwater was well drawn and you could feel her frustrations and tenseness during the book, the reason for which is slowly revealed in a series of flashbacks. I thought the African part of the book was very well done and the story involving the chimpanzees was harsh and lifelike. Made me shiver a bit ...more
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Play Book Tag: Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd – 4 Stars 4 6 Apr 02, 2021 04:09PM  

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Note: William^^Boyd

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

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