This novel is written in the form of a biography of Alexander Maclean, the product of a colonial and South African childhood set in an era long before the liberalising of South African society after 1994.
The tension between Alexander’s sexuality, which he cannot help viewing as evidence of a grave moral failing on his part, and his Christian faith, is a major theme throughout much of his life. He struggles also to overcome his increasingly savage alcohol addiction.
Alexander’s attempts to escape his sexuality assume physical form in his restless travels back and forth to Britain and across sub-Saharan Africa, with periods spent in the Mediterranean and the Far East also.
This is at times a harrowing story of an unconventional life, but we see that Alexander never entirely loses an almost childlike innocence, despite a life that is sometimes thoroughly debauched and degraded.
In some of the descriptive passages of the African wilderness in particular, we grasp something of Alexander’s love of life.
The reader finds that although Alexander’s long struggle has caused him lasting physical and mental injuries, he does in time attain the peace he has sought so long, and the final years of his life in Scotland’s West Highlands are contented ones.