I think Mad Mischief by Susan St. John is a well written and interesting novel for a comparatively small group of readers. I read it to the end but personally found it boring. Which is not to say not good (double negatives attract attention with their annoyance). This is a travel book, think Safari Adventure. The descriptions are detailed and expressed with beautiful language. And this is what bores me. I don’t want to read the travel adventures of others, I want to experience them myself. Which is why I am an expat; I love to travel and I do it. Despite that, this is a travel novel of Africa, a continent I have not visited so there is a lot of new and interesting information. It is buried in the wealth of descriptive detail.
This is a character-driven story which provides an excuse for all the traveling. The story, about the shifting development of characters as they proceed on African travel adventures, is not remarkable and as I skimmed through a lot of the wonderful description to find the story (my apologies to the author) ennui quickly set in. This took me almost three days to read; it should have taken one.
There are no good or perfect characters in the story. Protagonist Sarah, the best of all the principal characters, seems mostly to be dealing with different states of mental confusion as she tries to define herself. She embarks on the safari with the good self-knowledge that she is not in the place she wants to be, she hopes the safari adventure will clear things up for her. Peter is her despicable husband, has no redeeming qualities, and is a definition of a wasted life. Sarah and he had met more than a decade in the past when she was some type of assistant to Peter. She didn’t really “graduate” when she married him. She may have thought she loved him. Peter knew he loved her money; she seems to have unlimited wealth. By the time of this safari, Sarah knows that she has never been and will never be more than his assistant. The degradation and disdain he subjected her to in this story are painful to read.
Max is only a shade less horrible and despicable character than Peter. Max is the safari guide and will take them on safari through at least two countries ending up in Kenya where most significant activities take place. Because of a Ph.D. and Masters backed up by eclectic education and experience in Photography and Flying, he is a know-it-all, which might be considered good in a guide. Max must be constantly better than anyone else. One way he does this is by deprecating the likes and activities of others. He is harsher than Peter in his criticism of all Sarah’s daily practices on safari, especially focusing on her desire to and insistence on keeping a written journal. Max believes the journal writing that Sarah does constantly is a waste of time; it distracts her attention from him. Sarah is both cataloging their journey with the what, why, and when of what they have seen as well as trying to do interpretive writing as she meditates.
There are three parts to Sarah’s safari experience. The first part involves Max, Peter, Sarah, Julia, and Thad. The latter two will terminate their part of the safari early but while they are on the trip Julia will bond with Sarah and commiserate about the terrible way Max treats Sarah while Peter looks on and seems to support Max. By the time the two leave and the three main characters proceed to Nairobi, Sarah will have begun to claim an identity of self-worth.
The second part of the story begins when Sarah tells Peter to go home; she will stay on in Nairobi. This second part is more interesting than the first because finally, we stop with detailed flora and fauna notes. Sarah, now alone, turns to observe people and society around her. Max is still around; she and Max have both been detained for overstaying their visa. For Max, this is a big deal. Authorities know he should have known better. By this time, Sarah is either mildly infatuated with or has a strong sense of loyalty to fellow travelers in distress. Max will remain detained while an investigation proceeds; Sarah will be released but hangs around to help Max get out of his mess. During the next several months she will get sick and be unable to travel while at the same time become a target for several scam artists who will attempt to borrow money from the unbelievably wealthy Sarah. She will become completely infatuated with Africa, specifically Kenya and will trust most who ask for money while she comes up with an idea for establishing an NGO that will fund poor Africans who otherwise would have no source of funds.
Sarah’s family in the US have become concerned with her ever-increasing expenditures and eventually, a delegation containing Sarah’s brother and a friend will arrive to find out what is going on. The story does not end here but is the beginning of the third phase of her journey, the one I found to be the most interesting.
There is a lot of content to this story. There is a story of government corruption that is handled well in its many facets. There is a story of African city life and its contrast to African village life. Throughout the novel there is the story of someone from a Western culture trying to understand and even be a part of African culture. As an expatriate living in Southeast Asia, I was entertained about the similarities in systems of corruption, bribery, and gifts. I gave this story four Amazon stars despite the fact I didn’t really like it. It is a 456-page well-written book for sale at a Kindle Price of USD 7.99. I read and reviewed it at the author’s request and was not compensated in any way.