I absolutely adore Africa and so it gives me enormous pleasure to have been asked by Imogen Harris at Legend Press to be part of the launch celebrations for Fire on the Mountain by Jean McNeil. I have a guest post from Jean all about the inspiration of Africa as well as my review to share today.
Fire on the Mountain was published by Legend Press on 15th February 2018 and is available for purchase here.
Fire on the Mountain
A Guest Post by Jean McNeil
“what it is about Africa that inspires a writer to explore themes of identity (is it the vastness of the open spaces perhaps, or the fact that we seem to have all emerged from Africa) and how the scents, sights and sounds of Africa lend themselves to painting the most vivid settings through words”.
I am definitely inspired by landscape, in that some stories seem possible only in certain places. In some cases the place, landscape or setting supercedes character, and even becomes the story itself. ‘Africa’ is too generalised a term to describe a continent of 55 vastly different countries, but it’s true that my ten years spent on and off in southern and eastern Africa have been a great inspiration to me.
Fire on the Mountain is set in an unspecified country, but at its centre is a landscape informed by Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, two spectacular cities where I have been fortunate to live, and which are both wild at heart, and on the other the aridity of the northern part of South Africa and Namibia, in particular the compellingly Spartan beauty of the Kalahari and Namib deserts and Namaqualand. Such places are difficult to describe because of the sheer scale and relative (to a European eye) emptiness. They are thrillingly empty. This presents a challenge to a writer. Also as a novelist I’m interested in how people are defined by place, and how they absorb and respond to the wilderness. Some people I know who have been brought up in such places seem to have a moral and physical freedom which is almost impossible in Europe. In Fire on the Mountain the physical danger and freedom the characters encounter in the land through which they move open up emotional spaces within them which they did not know existed.
(You’re absolutely right about that indefinable quality of Africa Jean.)
My Review of Fire on the Mountain
Nick’s arrival at Pieter and Sara Lissen’s will leads to truths too difficult for some to bear.
Fire on the Mountain is a complex, mesmerising read that doesn’t fully uncover itself until the very last word. The structure, themes and the extremes of emotion are as intricate as the political Africa of its setting.
There’s fear, violence and threat as well as passion, obsession and true friendship woven throughout so that reading Fire on the Mountain is actually quite a draining experience. This is not a negativity, but rather that Jean Mc Neil has created so authentic a narrative that the reader becomes utterly immersed.
There are undercurrents of evil, foretelling portents and second sight so that, regardless of the reader’s opinion of such beliefs, the potentially devastating signs are there. I loved the literal and metaphorical fire on the mountain for example that gives a hellish feel to the story so that I kept wondering just who might burn in hell.
I found the structure to the novel mirrored its contents very cleverly. Jean McNeil’s use of tenses is quite fluid and past and present tenses merge into one another in the same way past and present actions overlap and are gradually revealed. I found this very skilful writing that added to a sense of both mystery and unease.
The three men Nick, Pieter and Riaan are striking characters. The reader’s experiences their flaws and extremes first hand, making them fascinating and spellbinding.
Fire on the Mountain can be read as a straightforward narrative ostensibly about love, but it is so much more besides. I feel it needs re-reading several times to uncover all its nuances and meanings. It’s a triumph of a book. I really enjoyed it.
About Jean McNeil
Jean McNeil is a prolific fiction and non-fiction author whose work has been nominated for and won several major international awards. She is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia. Her first novel with Legend Press, seventh overall publication was The Dhow House (2016).
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