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Brazzaville Beach

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  4,037 Ratings  ·  306 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 1990)
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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
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
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
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 an unnamed country in Africa.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Roz Morris
Mar 24, 2015 rated it liked it
The story didn't grab me, but the characters certainly did. I find Boyd's people very human, believable and distinctive. In this novel he has a particularly peculiar group as they're scientists in a research station, so there are plenty of opportunities for them to develop eccentricities and interpersonal tensions.
And perhaps this is the real curiosity of the story, especially when woven in with the subject of their research - the behaviour of the baboon population. It's people watching - throu
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
May 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: BBC7 listeners
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ruth Seeley
May 12, 2010 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.
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I was fascinated by the architecture of this novel. Author William Boyd’s choice to have a first-person narrator tell her story from both the first and the third person may sound like a gimmick, but I can guess why he made that choice. And since it doesn’t interfere with either my understanding or enjoyment of the story, who am I to quibble? The emotional and temporal distance of one story, told in third person, contrasts with the immediacy of the more recent stories, told in first.

There are es
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, thriller
This book came by recommendation by my brother-in-law, who is a big fan of William Boyd. After this initial meeting with him, I am looking forward reading more books, and I do have another one of his books in my book case, Waiting for Sunrise.
"What cannot be avoided, must be welcomed, as Amilcar had told me."
Brazzaville Beach was written in 1990, and is narrated by Hope Clearwater, a scientist. There are several stories in the novel; Hope in the present time, where we find her studying chimpanze
Lexine U.
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
What doesn't this book cover?
It has relationships, history, science, action, and politics all in one.
Set in civil war-torn Africa, the present narrative, one of many, talks about Hope Clearwater as a carefree young woman living on Brazzaville Beach. The name is intriguing, to say the least, but the intertwining narratives, of the tragic story between Hope and her ex-husband John, of game and chaos theories, of the Terranaut-like environment within Grosso Arvore, and of the detailed descriptions
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel consists of three narratives: present day, where our main character Hope Clearwater is living on the titular Brazzaville Beach, some time in the past, when Hope is living in Africa studying Chimpanzees and even further in the past, when Hope is living in England with her husband John.

The two narratives set in the past are the main ones and we mostly switch between those to. In Africa, the story is told in first person, while in England it is told in third person. Between each switch i
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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
More about William Boyd

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“The last thing we learn about ourselves is our effect.” 15 likes
“I have teken refuge in the doctrine that advises one not to seek tranquility in certainty but in permanently suspended judgement.” 5 likes
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