Fire on the Mountain by Jean McNeil Legend Press 15th February 2018
When NGO worker Nick drops unexpectedlyinto the lives of Pieter and Sara Lisson, he feel she has found the parents he never had. Nick is enraptured by their lives of splendour and acclaim as much as the stirring setting of the African city where they live, but he soon senses a secret at the heart of his new family. Nick then meets Riaan, the Lissons’ son, and so begins an intense connection that threatens to erupt into a relationship neither had ever considered. In the shadow of the Brandberg, the glowing mountain that stands at the heart of the desert, Nick will discover that his passion for Riaan is not the only fire which threatens his newfound home.
Who is Nick? Why did he suddenly jump ship and abandon his successful career jetting into the problem spots of the world, providing relief? Is he ill or is it something else?
These are the questions that confronted me as I started McNeil’s novel. It is not until Nick flees to the parents of a friend, their house sitting in the shadow of the Brandberg Mountain, that his story slowly begins to unravel. Pieter and Sara’s house provides the opportunity for Nick to look inwards on himself, to question who he is, what he is doing and what his future may hold. The interspersed chapters littered throughout slowly filled in the gaps giving more meaning to Nick’s current dilemmas. Indeed Nick is quite a complex character, not hugely likeable, and quite cold, but reading of his distant parents and family background I do not think there is any other way that Nick can be or knows how to be. His relationship with Pieter and Sara soon develops into that of surrogate son, stepping into the vacant shoes of their own two sons who live faraway and rarely visit. He strikes up an interesting relationship with Pieter, an eminent and often controversial novelist. Nick shows great interest in Pieter’s writing and novels where perhaps his sons had not, and their ensuing conversations and differing perspectives were interesting to read.
The story takes an even more complex turn when Nick meets Pieter and Sara’s son Riaan, who lives in the African bush. Their upbringing and worlds are so far apart yet there is something that draws them together. When Riaan invites Nick to spend some time with him in the bush there is the anticipation that something is going to happen but you are not entirely sure what it is. It is at this point that one of the main characters in the novel comes into its own, that of the African landscape.
McNeil’s vivid imagery and descriptions are brilliantly done. I could taste the arid desert sand, feel the intensity of the heat, and see the beauty of the night sky. The intensity of the heat and the chill of the night perfectly mirrored the relationship between Nick and Rican. I could sense the fluctuating mix of emotion, and confusion as they tried to make sense of their feelings, questioning themselves and each other. I found this to be my favourite part of the novel. It was so wonderfully written and enthralling that I did worry how it would end, where McNeil would take us next.
I needn’t have worried, as McNeil seamlessly guided the novel to its conclusion, and although I did anticipate the outcome it in no way detracted from my enjoyment.
This is not a novel of huge drama, instead it is a novel of emotion, of life, of how we make sense of whom we are, how the landscape and circumstances in which we live can mould us. It is about breaking free, making changes, discovering who we are, and having the courage to live as we want to.
It is an intense and enthralling novel that I enjoyed immensely.
Thank you to Imogen Harris and Legend Press for the review copy and inviting mybookishblogspot to take part in the blogtour.
About the author
Jean McNeil is a prolific fiction and nonfiction 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
Follow Jean on Twitter @jeanmcneilwrite