Any book that has the expression “a rattling good read” quoted on its cover sounds ideal for holiday reading, and indeed, this big fat first novel, published in 2003, was a nicely satisfying pick for a rainy European holiday.

I have a pronounced weakness for any book about South Africa (where I used to live), and admittedly, it was the title that first drew me to this novel.

Sundowners are a delicious way of life in Africa, particularly in the bush, where you watch the African sun set against a backdrop of animals at a waterhole…but I digress…

Lovely as the title is, I couldn’t see how it related to the novel, but never mind, I read it anyway.

The novel follows the lives of 4 friends from spartan boarding school in rainy England, through to adulthood, love affairs, marriage, motherhood.

One of the four girls is a wealthy, blonde, beautiful, brattish South African, who has much to learn about life and co-existing and sharing, and especially dealing with people who are not white.

Rianne has been brought up all her pampered life in Johannesburg by black South Africans, but has never had a black friend.

And so we follow all their lives, with more or less degrees of commitment and interest, as they make mistakes, make bad choices and good decisions, but always stick together.

The school days, the early scene-setting, bonding part, is way too long and detailed.  But it does provide a backdrop for Rianne to meet Riitho, who is at the neighbouring boys’ school.  A fellow South African, Riitho is black, the son of a leading political activist.

And thereby hangs a tale.

Which it would be mean to divulge, since “Sundowners” does make for a good page-turner.

Far and away the most compelling parts of the book are those about South Africa.

The author writes with warmth and knowledge and compassion about Johannesburg and the struggle, and her cast of African characters, both major and minor players, are convincing and affectionately drawn.

The inclusion of many real South Africans, especially in those turbulent times around the end of the apartheid era, add to the effective atmosphere.

Yes, obviously I am talking about Nelson Mandela.

Published by Orion, the paperback costs £6.99.

If you would like to buy the book now, nothing could be simpler.  Just click on the link below to order.

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