William Boyd D.A.N. Jones - Essay

D.A.N. Jones

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

This engaging novel [A Good Man in Africa] about a damn-fool Englishman doing everything wrong in West Africa (Nigeria, lightly disguised) will give pleasure, both malicious and humane, to all Old Coasters. It is stiff with the British tribalism of expats. The hero, Morgan Leafy, is a junior diplomat with the inverted snobbery of an early Amis hero. A lower-middle Southerner, he is infuriated by the mannerisms of his bosses, the upper-middle Southerners. "Good man!" the book begins. "Oh, good man!" The compliment comes from a newly arrived young poshocrat who, Morgan fears, will get on better with the boss and the boss's daughter than Morgan can. "Good man"—like "old boy", "mate", "colonel", "sir" and "squire"—is an endearment used by British males to wound, as often as not. The real meaning of "a good man" is, however, illustrated indirectly, in parenthesis….

Also disliked and punished by Morgan is a pleasingly hearty Welsh paterfamilias called Denzil Jones who slaps his back in the Europeans' club and calls him "Boyo!" Then there is Dr Murray, a righteous Scotsman of the type often called Calvinist in the South, even when neither Scot nor Sassenach has read a word of Calvin. Morgan has to go to Dr Murray when he gets the clap from his African girlfriend, he even tries to jump the queue—and Dr Murray's righteousness is quite hellish. Morgan hates him. Dr Murray is the sort of "good man in Africa" that makes Morgan want to be bad.

His boss, Arthur Fanshawe, is the sort of man who grows daily more interested and expert in his previous posting—rather as British generals are alleged to be constantly preparing for the last war. The Fanshawes have much to tell Morgan about the wisdom of Asia: they have got up their house as a cross between a Buddhist temple and a Chinese restaurant, they teach Morgan Siamese toasts—but they cannot be doing much with Nigeria, its gods and its politicians. It is Morgan who must deal with the priests, Morgan who must worm his way into the...

(The entire section is 836 words.)