The Consul's Wife

W. T. Tyler, Author
W. T. Tyler, Author Henry Holt & Company $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4425-6
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In this coolly intelligent political novel, Tyler evokes the atmosphere of the African Congo (formerly the Belgian Congo, then Zaire and now, again, Congo) with potent detail and delineates a love affair and its aftermath with similar clarity. One can find echoes of Conrad and Ward Just in the story of an alienated and restless man disillusioned by cynical political protocol and bureaucratic ineptitude and cast adrift by his bleak philosophy of life. When we first meet narrator Hugh Mathews in the 1960s, the American foreign service officer is resentful at having been transferred to the Congo from ""promiscuous, laissez-faire"" Beirut. Underutilized in his new post, he travels into the interior in search of the African relics that Blakey Ogden, the well-bred wife of the prissy but possessive consul, has brought to his attention. Blakey's love affair with Mathews releases her latent sexual appetite and her hope of bringing meaning to her life, but Mathews clumsily destroys her peace of mind and loses her. Meanwhile, he has become aware of barely contained anarchy in the villages, where feuding tribes battle each other. Later, when he is transferred to East Africa, he discovers more intrigue, commits an indiscretion and is ordered back to Washington with his career at a dead end. There, however, he gets a second chance. Tyler (The Man Who Lost the War) describes African traditions and tribal artifacts with a rare sensibility, and he captures the feel of a civilization in which sorcery often prevails over political realities. This is an understated but deeply felt novel in which the ways governments trample individual lives are rendered with frightening precision. For Tyler's characters, happiness and redemption are fragile and hard-won--and all the more touching for their delayed fruition. (Jan.)
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