The Cloths of Heaven by Sue Eckstein

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The Cloths of Heaven by Sue Eckstein

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The passions and loneliness of the expatriate life in a fictional part of West Africa. Wonderful characters and excellent setting topped off by a great plot. Definitely recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Myriad Editions
ISBN: 978-0954930981

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We're in West Africa in the early nineteen nineties. There's the usual mix of expatriates and diplomatic staff doing their best to do their best whilst still making the most of the freedoms such a life gives. Isabel is married to iconoclastic photographer Patrick Redmond and copes better than most wives would with her husband's fixation with pendulous black breasts. There is gossip though. The High Commissioner and his wife Fenella are both involved in illicit affairs, with more or less discretion.

An English judge is wandering through the bush on the heels of some local tribesmen and following their way of life and there's the mandatory timeshare salesman determined that he knows it all and can make killing despite the fact that everyone else can see the futility of his schemes. He does though, make a killing. Father Seamus has a penchant for a shirt made of rather unusual material – and it's anyone's guess as to what else he's up to.

Into all this comes diplomat Daniel Maddison. It's his first foreign posting and he's not yet been trained into the endless rounds of meaningless social occasions, and gossip. He much prefers the local people, and places far removed from those frequented by his High Commission colleagues. He has a particular interest in a dusty warehouse where a thin and rather unforthcoming white woman measures out lengths of cloth. It's not what you think though – for Daniel has left his heart at home.

It's a wonderful story of the loneliness and passions which exist in such communities. The picture of the diplomatic life is spot-on, but it's the characters who really make the story. They're all so rounded – with the possible exception of Bob Newpin the timeshare salesman who is a delight because he's so repellent. The setting is a fictional part of West Africa but it's so well realised that you feel as though you've been there.

It's a multi-stranded story with all the different threads skillfully woven together. I really wanted to know how all the individual stories worked out, but when I turned the final page there was some disappointment (despite a wonderful ending) as I would happily have read a great deal more. Splendid stuff.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. We also have a review of Interpreters by Sue Eckstein.

For more of Africa, we can recommend The Other Hand by Chris Cleave and do have a look at our Top Ten Books About Africa.

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