A Spear Of Summer Grass
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Delilah Drummond is notorious in society in 1920’s Paris. With three marriages behind her and two of her husbands dead, the biggest scandal of all threatens to envelop her. The whispers are that she killed her third husband and hoards the jewels of his family and when the talk threatens a prestigious invitation her mother has received, the family talk is that Delilah has to go.
The decision is made that she go to Africa, to her former stepfather’s neglected estate in Kenya where she can hide out until her scandal has been surpassed by the next one. Fairlight is a shadow of its former glory, neglected and fading but there’s no denying the stark and feral beauty of the local surroundings. Here the small but tight ex-pat community revel in their gin-filled dinners and safaris, bolstered by cigarettes and games. Delilah finds that the situation begins to suit her quite well, especially as she knows most of the ex-pats nearby and even discovers a former lover, Kit, an artist, is her tenant.
In contrast to Kit, Ryder White is like no one she’s ever met before. He becomes a guide of sorts, educating her on her beautiful and untamed location. Working as a safari guide, Ryder has a quiet capability that leads people to pay him the big dollars for his work. He’s damaged, perhaps as damaged as Delilah herself is and they want two very different things out of life. Delilah plans to escape back to Paris and civilisation as soon as she is given the word and Ryder has made Africa his home, dedicated to many a cause in education and understanding.
In Africa, Delilah will discover that some things are important than the perfect cocktail, the latest silk dress. Some things are worth fighting for, worth sacrificing yourself for and that what was once exile can be home.
In A Spear Of Summer Grass, Deanna Raybourn takes us away from Victorian England to 1920’s Kenya and the result is a lush and decadent book that kept me up long into the night (not an easy feat these days, let me assure you). Delilah is our protagonist and I do believe that how people feel about this book will be in direct relation to how they feel about her. Deliah is not Lady Julia, who although doesn’t fit into the neatly labelled box of “Society Lady”, still nonetheless has lines she does not cross. Delilah it seems, has no such lines. Raised by an often-married mother, Delilah has had a string of husbands and lovers and exhibits a sexually free attitude that would raise eyebrows in most eras. Although the latest scandal occupying page space in the papers is quite twisted, it’s clear that this is really the last straw for some members of her family and that a bit of distance between Delilah and Paris society would be quite the good idea. And so this seemingly-vacuous, promiscuous woman is shunted out of sight.
What redeems Delilah is her strength. She’s lived quite the life, she’s suffered and she keeps on going, coping the very best way she knows how – she “seeks the oblivion”. The further I got into this book the more I was fascinated by the layers that made up the pretty package, the façade she often wore to hide what was really going on underneath. There are glimpses of her pain but she’s quite up front that she packs it away in boxes never to be opened but there are times when it can’t help but leak out. I liked Delilah, I found her quite refreshing and also quite brave. A woman in Africa in the 1920’s where there are literally hippos, lions, cheetah’s, leopards, monkeys, elephants, giraffes etc a few minutes walk away. It’s worlds away from Paris society or anywhere else she has ever been and she finds herself doing things like administering medicine and care to the local tribes, tracking a dangerous lion and having her heart touched by two truly special Masai tribesmen.
As much as I loved Delilah there were times when she truly frustrated me as well. She’d been taught to behave in one way around men it seemed and it had become second nature to her, even in situations where she just really should….not be acting like that. I wanted her to use less guile and more forthright intelligence because I knew she possessed it. Likewise often with Ryder I wanted her to play less games or to open up to him a little more when it was becoming apparent she needed him in her life. Instead she continued to push him away and distract herself with Kit, who meant nothing to her when she should have been focusing on the man who actually meant something. I could understand why she was doing it, I just wished she’d stop it!
The setting is so different to the previous novels which helps establish it in its own right – I have a fascination with Africa and I do very much enjoy reading books that are set there. Most of what I’ve read is set in modern day Africa, very little is from the time of colonialism and when Africa was divided up and white settlers came in their droves to make their wealth farming coffee and tea. This novel highlights the decadence versus the poverty, the have and the have-nots. Delilah is rather enlightened, having grown up in Louisiana and I really enjoyed her growing friendships with Masai warrior Gideon and his younger brother Moses.
A Spear Of Summer Grass makes me excited because I know that if/when Lady Julia and Brisbane are finished then Deanna Raybourn will still be putting out lots of fabulous books that I will love.
Book #11 of 2013
A Spear Of Summer Grass counts towards my participation in the Literary Exploration Challenge in the category of historical fiction.