The scorching heat, the champagne and the seductive decadence of the lifestyle of white settlers in Nairobi forms the backdrop to this ‘coming of age’ story set in nineteen twenties Kenya. The richly detailed descriptions of the African landscape, flora and fauna are bursting with colour and scent.
Fourteen-year old Theo Miller and his younger sister, Maud move to Nairobi with their family, where their father is a Director of the Kenyan Railways. Theo is entranced by the dangerous allure of American heiress Sylvie and her lover, Freddie, glamorous members of the ‘party’ set who live by different rules from normal people. Theo is petted and spoiled by his new friends, who set out to teach him the ways of their world.
The story is set over several years and we see Theo and Maud mature but there is a prevailing and increasing air of unease that, underneath the privileged lives of his new friends, there is the scent of something very rotten. Theo is unable to shake off his infatuation for Sylvie and Freddie, while Maude crosses the acceptable line in her interaction with the native Kenyans and pays a heavy price.
The story was compulsive reading and I was fascinated to discover that some of the characters were based upon real people. I wondered if this was the reason the ending didn’t feel as dynamic to me as the rest of the story.
I received a complimentary e-book of An Unsuitable Woman from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.