Five words from the blurb: Congo, fortune, jungle, enslaved, kidnapping
I hadn’t heard of Atxaga before this unsolicited review copy popped through my letter box, but the impressive list of awards he has won (including the Spanish National Literature Prize and a shortlisting for the European Literature Prize) grabbed my attention. The Observer also listed him as one of the top 21 writers of the 21st century, so I was keen to discover why his writing is so highly regarded.
Seven Houses in France is set in 1903 and follows a French Captain who is sent to the Congo to pillage the rain-forest of rubber, mahogany and ivory. He sends a vast amount of wealth back to France, enough to buy the seven houses mentioned in the title.
The quality of the writing was very high, but I hated the actions of the central character so much that I struggled to read it. At one point I almost gave up, but the entire book was a bit like a car crash – you know you are going to witness something horrible, but you are unable to avert your gaze.
There were no redeeming scenes – the entire book is about one despicable man who kidnaps young girls from local villages and rapes them; a man who thinks it is entertaining to tie monkeys to posts and use them for target practice – and that is before I even mention the gathering of ivory, the enslavement of local people and all the other shockingly bad things he does without batting an eyelid.
I’m really hoping that Atxaga is being deliberately provocative with his writing; creating an obnoxious character to ensure that we become enraged by his actions. I’m sure some people will love the strong emotions produced by reading this book, but I’m afraid I can’t recommend it to anyone. It is important we know these terrible events happened, but I don’t like the images I now have in my head.