(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Stan Binstead, an ambitious young anthropologist at a New England university, is heading off to East Africa on sabbatical to study the survival of primitive lion cults. Binstead has a theory that such cults operate as tribal protection rackets-- stay in line or the lions will get you!

When his timid wife Millie asks if she can come along, Binstead’s heady fantasies of intellectual and sexual triumph in the lush jungle begin to fade. Millie’s absence seems essential to the trip’s success. He does his best to talk her out of it--Africa is no place for a woman, after all--but Millie stands firm.

After a few days in London, a stopover on the first leg of the journey, Stan and Millie begin to switch roles. She becomes vibrant, adventuresome, almost flirtatious; he turns sullen and withdrawn, the proverbial party-pooper. Once they arrive in Africa the change is even more pronounced. Millie has a romantic fling with a charismatic white hunter, while Stan mopes around by himself, unable to get started on his research. Millie’s white hunter is later killed in mysterious circumstances, but by then she has made up her mind to divorce Stan as soon as they return to the United States. Stan is devastated by this news, which a few months earlier would have delighted him. He has trouble sleeping and begins to imagine that lions are about to attack him.

Rachel Ingalls is an American writer living in England, where she has been named one of the twenty best postwar American novelists by the British Book Marketing Council. BINSTEAD’S SAFARI, first published in Great Britain in 1983, is in part an ingenious feminist reworking of Ernest Hemingway’s famous short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” Ingalls’ subtle “deconstruction” points out and challenges the male-centered assumptions of the typical safari tale, offering at the same time a compelling “magic realist” alternative. This is a well-written and thought-provoking book that is also fun to read.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLXI, March, 1988, p. 100.

Booklist. LXXXIV, February 1, 1988, p. 903.

Chicago Tribune. February 14, 1988, XIV, p. 4.

Kirkus Reviews. LV, December 15, 1987, p. 1692.

Library Journal. CXIII, February 1, 1988, p. 75.

Los Angeles Times. March 29, 1988, V, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, April 17, 1988, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXII, December 18, 1987, p. 55.

Time. CXXXI, April 11, 1988, p. 74.

The Wall Street Journal. March 15, 1988, p. 32.

The Washington Post Book World. XVIII, March 6, 1988, p. 9.

Binstead's Safari

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Though the main characters in Rachel Ingalls’ Binstead’s Safari are American, the novel is set in England (London) and Africa. Millie and Stan Binstead, in fact, are like some of Henry James’s characters in that they are the victims of assumptions which change when they encounter people and locales foreign to them. This kind of situation seems natural to Ingalls, an American expatriate who, like James before her, lives in England, where she settled in 1964 and where Binstead’s Safari was first published in 1983. Her publishing career, indeed, has followed her taking up residence in England; The Pearlkillers appeared in 1964, followed by Theft (1970), Mediterranean Cruise (1973), The Man Who Was Left Behind and Other Stories (1974), Mrs. Caliban (1982), and, after Binstead’s Safari, Something to Write Home About: Stories (1988). Binstead’s Safari itself records the emotional recovery of a woman trapped and debased by her marriage. It also traces how her husband comes to love her again and to understand himself for the first time.

Millie Binstead has spent most of her marriage feeling worthless. Her husband Stan, a professor, has done little if anything to help her. In fact, the more passive and enervated Millie has become, the more Stan has despised her. Moreover, Stan has found out that he is not impotent and Millie that she is not barren, but neither has told the other; as a result, each thinks the other is to blame for their not having children. Unfortunately, neither really wants to have a child by the other. In effect, they have become strangers to each other; boredom has led Stan to other women, and self-pity has led Millie to the resentful pretense that she can do nothing on her own.

This grim state of affairs begins to change when the Binsteads travel to London, then to Africa. Stan has gotten a grant to research what he believes to be an unusual lion cult in Africa. Surprisingly Millie insists on going along, though Stan wants to leave her behind. In London, while Stan spends his time with various colleagues, including Jack, an old friend who sets him up with a woman, Millie goes exploring on her own. She visits museums and attends the ballet, her curiosity and energy no longer dormant.

During the early (town) phase of their stay in Africa, Stan pays Ian Foster and his younger partner Nicholas Fairchild, veteran big-game hunters and longtime residents of the area, to guide the Binsteads on a safari into lion country. Millie, meanwhile, meets and has an affair with Henry Lewis, a legendary local hunter and an expert on lions.

Stan has trouble pinning down the lion cult he has come to Africa to research. His London friend Jack thinks that it is a provincial extortion racket, and locals such as Ian Foster seem to know little if anything about the cult. Protocol and the language barrier also prevent Stan from learning much in the villages he visits on the safari.

Millie, meanwhile, blossoms in the earthy environment in which she finds herself. Lewis has ignited her sexual and romantic feelings, and she exchanges love letters with him through intermediaries. She discovers,...

(The entire section is 1317 words.)