All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Savage Garden – Chris Muir

on January 28, 2014

A Savage GardenA Savage Garden
Chris Muir
Random House AU
2014, 251p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Many years ago Jack Norton, a former Navy SEAL came to Africa to make a difference. But that was a long time ago and exposure to the hopelessness and corruption of the area has jaded him immensely and now he hires himself out as a helicopter pilot to the highest bidder. It doesn’t matter who pays him or what they want him to do, so long as he gets paid.

However when Jack flies some injured children to a hospital in the Congo it leads to a chance meeting with a humanitarian doctor who still retains a starry-eyed view of Africa and a belief in change. Jack falls in love and comes to question the way his life has gone and the fact that he has left his own views of wanting to help change in the past. When he experiences tragedy, he drifts until he meets a man known as Papa Joe who wants Jack to help him with his plan.

Papa Joe has been rescuing children in the Congo from poverty, disease and death for a long time, trying to implement his long term plan to educate them and then use them to bring about the change the country so desperately needs. He wants Jack’s help in executing the plan, funded by a diamond mine, the existence and location of which is known to only a few people in the world. Papa Joe needs Jack’s skills and although he takes some convincing, it’s just the sort of exercise that can help Jack find his way again.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had a real fascination with novels set in Africa. I’ve never been there and it’s unlikely that I ever will go there but it fascinates me all the same. I’ve never really thought too much about why that is but I suppose I’d say it’s the difference between it and what I know. I can read a book set in the UK or America or Canada or even parts of Europe and there’s plenty there to find that’s very familiar. With a lot of books set in Africa, almost nothing is familiar.

Jack Norton has been in Africa a long time and he’s gone from being idealistic, thinking about being an implement of change to being a paid mercenary for hire to the highest bidder. He’s seen enough corruption and violence to last a lifetime and no longer thinks that he or anyone else can make a difference. Nothing an individual does can stand up against the many who serve their own interests and use others as pawns. Meeting Sophie, a French doctor changes that. Sophie is still possessed of that dream to change Africa, to haul it into democracy and harmony and her passion and enthusiasm spark something in Jack once again.

This book is interesting because it’s one of the first ones I’ve read that poses a solution to “the Africa problem” and by that I mean the wars, the famines, the genocide, the government corruption, the military presence and whatever else has contributed to the continent and the many countries within it disintegrating into chaos. It’s using Africans to fix the problems, to bring about the change. Not the UN, not America or Britain or experts from anywhere else but Africans born and raised in the Congo. I’m not sure how successful the posed solution would be but it’s something. And there are some really good ideas and problematic as it might be, it’s something that it’s hard not to get hopeful about and that’s something Jack experiences. When Papa Joe first approaches him about helping him with his plan, Jack is reluctant and borderline hostile. Slowly Papa Joe wins him over with conviction and dedication until Jack is as big a believer as Papa Joe is and is willing to go the extra yard to get done what needs to be done. I also like that this book explores what can possibly go wrong with ‘the plan’ as is evidenced by one of the situations later in the novel. There’s an acknowledgement that Papa Joe’s plan is just the beginning and that it would be a long, slow process to bring about the change they believe the area requires.

There’s action in this book, plenty of near misses with torturers and murderers, some daring escapes both on foot and in several helicopters and there’s also mateship and armed forces comraderie and a love story. One of my favourite parts was actually the call to arms for the retired soldiers around the world to help out Jack and his mate in a situation that required some special talents. But more than all of that, it’s also a thoughtful exploration of Africa, the Congo in  particular and some of the problems that have led it to where it is now and how it might be possible for it to begin to extract itself from the situation. It’s a very well rounded debut and a highly enjoyable story.


Book #16 of 2014


A Savage Garden is the 3rd book read and reviewed for my Aussie Author Challenge.

And now I’d like to welcome Chris Muir to the blog for a little Q&A session.

Chris Muir

Q1. Hi Chris and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. To begin, let’s talk writing. How did you get started and what was the road to publication like for you?

My love of words grew from my father’s addiction to the English language…although, I must admit that as a child it was something of a pain.

I wrote my first novel (if you could call it that) at about 25. (Oddly enough it was called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…apologies to Stieg Larsson), then a book of poetry at about 30. I didn’t really take writing all that seriously until I went to Africa in 1994 where I was presented with so much material that I just had to write it down. Like most first time authors it has been a bumpy road to publication. For a long time I collected the rejection slips like they were some kind of ‘badge of honour’ but as the pile grew ever bigger I realized that I was setting myself up for failure….I threw them all out…took a deep breath and started again.

I’ve written 4 novels of which A Savage Garden was actually the first but the version on the book shelves bears no resemblance to the original draft. 21 drafts and about 2.1 million words later I had a version that my agent, Jenny Darling, was happy with and that Random House would publish.

I tried getting a book deal for almost ten years but Jenny managed to do it in about two weeks….never underestimate the power of a good agent. In hind-sight the other novels I wrote were about me learning my craft…I re-read one of them recently…no wonder it was rejected.

Q2. Share a little about your writing routine: do you write full time or balance it with other work? Do you have a favourite place to write, such as a study or café and is there anything you consider essential to the creative process like coffee or music?

I run an advertising agency called Smoke Signals which keeps me busy but I make time for writing every day….you have to be 110% committed to this or it just won’t happen. I’m usually up about 5am and in the office soon after so I write until about 9 and then pick it up again once the phone has stopped ringing. I write in my office where I’m surrounded by thirty years of creative stimulus material but the secret for me is being able to step in the various characters’ shoes…to be them, to speak like them and to think like them.It’s an extremely schizophrenic existence but I get to have a party in my imagination every day and that’s not all bad.

In my dream world I’d be making enough money from writing to write full- time…so all I can say to your readers is ‘buy, buy, buy’….please.

Q3. I’ve never been to Africa but it’s one of my favourite locations to visit through fiction. What do you think it is about this part of the world that draws people in?

I think there are lots of things….the danger, the unknown, the Hollywood manufactured romance, the history…Africa is an amazing place and once you get off the beaten track, you don’t so much ‘visit it’ as get ‘captured’ by it.

Q4. A Savage Garden is set in some of the most dangerous and unstable territory in the world and it happens to be a place you’ve visited. What can you tell me about your experiences in the Congo?

I’ve been held at gunpoint more times than I care to consider, been led off into the jungle to be killed by militia…only to be saved by a guide who had helped me a couple of days before. I’ve danced with nuns at jungle discos in the middle of nowhere. I’ve seen child soldiers shoot their parents and I’ve lain with gorillas in the mist (life changing). I’ve sat on the edge of volcanoes and trekked jungles that grow three feet overnight. I’ve gone down mines where children are paid in dirt to dig out one of the world’s most precious minerals and I’ve watched the silhouettes of lions walk past my tent at night. The Congo is a dangerous place…but I love it.

 Q5. How much of your intention in writing the novel was to educate as well as entertain?

I guess that I started off wanting to educate people about what was happening in the Congo and Central Africa but my years in the communications business has taught me that you can’t hit people over the head with information and expect them to be engaged….you have creep up on them and wrap it up in entertainment. I hope that at the end of the day readers will find A Savage Garden both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Q6. If you had to describe your novel in 5 words, which ones would you choose?

• ‘Thought-provoking’

• Thrilling

• Hopeful

• Real

• Startling

Q7. Share 5 favourite authors and/or books

• A Sacred Scripture-Sebastian Barry

• Sick Puppy and Tourist Season – Carl Hiaasen

• The Book Thief- Markus Zusak

• The Light Between Oceans-M.L. Steedman

• The White Tiger-Aravida Adiga

Q8. And lastly, what’s next for you?

I’ve just finished the first draft of my next novel. It’s an adventure thriller using the pirates of Somalia as a backdrop. Just as A Savage Garden cracks open the truth about the Congo, my new book is an inside look at what’s really happening on the ground in Somalia, a place dubbed ‘the most dangerous country in the world’.


Can’t wait to read it! Thank you for your time Chris and good luck with your future novels.


One response to “Review: A Savage Garden – Chris Muir

  1. […] gave Chris Muir’s debut novel A Savage Garden her seal of approval, describing it ‘a well-rounded and highly enjoyable story’, […]

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