The Cloths of Heaven by Sue Eckstein

Cloths of heaven

Synopsis from Myriad Publishers:

West Africa in the early 1990s. Isabel Redmond is tiring of her iconoclastic husband’s penchant for pendulous black breasts; the High Commissioner and his wife Fenella are both enjoying illicit affairs; an old English judge is wandering through the scrub following a tribe of Fulani herdsmen; Bob Newpin is about to make a killing in timeshares; and just what Father Seamus is up to is anyone’s guess.

Enter new diplomat Daniel Maddison on his first posting abroad. Rebelling against the endless rounds of cocktail parties, golf and gossip, he finds himself drawn to people and places that lie way beyond the experience of his High Commission colleagues – and specifically to the dusty warehouse in the heart of the city where a thin white woman is silently measuring out lengths of brightly coloured cloth.

In this assured début about loneliness and passion in Africa, Sue Eckstein enthrals with a deliciously intricate plot, compelling characters and razor-sharp dialogue.

Eckstein, in her début novel, transports us to life in West Africa in the 1990s. We meet Daniel, who is experiencing his first international posting as a British diplomat. But life is more play than work. There are plenty of parties, many affairs, mysterious women and an entrepreneur who wants to build time shares in the “real Africa”. This is not the life he expected when he was posted here. This is life that is full of gossip and racism, not politics.

This was an interesting novel that I enjoyed. It looks at life in West Africa for the British diplomats out there. There is an eclectic group of people to learn about – in fact one of the problems I found with this book were the sheer number of characters. I found myself forgetting who some people were as I read the book. However, there were a few I liked. Such as Isobel, a lovely lady with a husband with a slightly disturbing hobby; Daniel, who seemed to genuinely care for people – he seemed like someone you would want to have around; and Father Seamus, who just made me chuckle as he went around in shirts with the Pope on.

Eckstein states in the back of the book that this is purely fictional, and that is how I read this book. As I was not concerned about how accurate the story and events were I was not disappointed with the novel. It is a bit disjointed but there is one main storyline, in which Daniel investigates the mysterious Rachel, with which every storyline eventually links up with. Each character and their part of the unfolding story is explored, giving the book greater depth.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it did not take me long to read it. I found myself wanting to know what happened, and although there were aspects of the book I didn’t like they didn’t completely spoil the book. This is a good debut novel.

8/10

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