As far as I could trace this is the debut novel by Lesley Lokko (Dundee, Scotland, 1964), a trained architect, who spend part of her childhood in Ghana, when she was 17 years young she went to a boarding school in the United Kingdom. After a lond career of studies and teaching positions at many colleges and universities in different countries, she is at the moment professor of Architecture in new York (USA).
I noted that Lesley went to boarding school in the UK, for this is also what happened to one of the main characters in her novel Sundowners. Rianne de Zoete, heir to a very, very wealthy mining family in South Africa, is send to a boarding school in the United Kingdom, much against her will. She lives the life of a very rich young girl. After her French mother died in a pool incident when Rianne was 10 years old and her father shortly after disappeared traceless, she is being raised by Lisette, a sister to her father, who now runs the family bussiness. Lisette has a son and a daughter, about the age of Rianne.
At boarding school she ends up with three other girls in one room. These three girls, Nathalie Maréchal, Gabby Francis and Charmaine Hunter will feature till the end of the book, for these four girls strike a strong friendship, after a difficult start. The boarding school is an all-girls event. However boys are not very far away at another boarding school. One of the boys at this school is Riitho Modise, who hails from South Africa, just like Rianne. But the two are worlds apart. Rianne the rich white girl living in her world of apartheid and Riitho, son of a freedom fighter who is in prison. Rianne wants to avoid him, the only people of colour she knows are servants.
In this novel we follow the lives of the four girls and central to that is the relationship between Rianne and Riitho Modise (and in the wake of it the situation of apartheid in South Africa). Rianne’s family has abundant wealth and houses all over the place, so travel is an important part of this novel. A retreat in the Carribean, a house in new York, a house in Paris and the estate in South Africa. Always plenty of money to find proper lodgings and people to work for you.
In the beginning I thought this novel was a kind of Young Adult novel, noting the kind of conversation the girls had at boarding school, and maybe I got used to this kind of language while progressing in the novel. But on the whole I got the impression that the story did not grow up, as if the story got stuck in simple situations and solutions. I got the impression that the content of the novel was just a bit to heavy for the writer. There were some inconsistencies in the novel (it is a long story to tell, so it is not surprising that an inconsistency creeps in), a lot of biting of the lower lip, leaning on elbows after sex. Four young girls with multiple relationships do not make it easy for a writer to go into the depths of a character. Starting and breaking up and mending relationships are complex situations, that are now handled in a fast way. And not just the young women are sexually involved.
The end of the story is just bit too much, mended relationships, a happy ending, setting an example in the newly gained freedom of South Africa. And the archbishop (with no name), gave his blessing.
Lesley Lokko – Sundowners – Orion Books London 2003