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Review: Mandoa, Mandoa! by Winifred Holtby


Pages: 382
Original date of publication: 1933
My edition: 1982 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: I’m a huge Winifred Holtby aficionado
How I acquired my copy: ebay, July 2011


When Maurice Durrant, the youngest member of Prince’s Tours, wins his seat, he sends his profligate brother Bill to Mandoa, a small African state, to attend the wedding of a princess. With him is his old friend Jean Stanbury, who has recently lost her newspaper job. The arrive to a Mandoa where the Lord High Chamberlain, Safi Talal, is a Westernophile who watches American films over and over; believes that the typewriter, rubber bath, and fountain pen are the hallmarks of civilized society; and uses phrases such as “OK, baby.”

I’m usually a huge Winifred Holtby fan, but I really couldn’t get into this book as much as I thought I would. Holtby seemed as though she was out of her element with this book; it’s the only one not set in Yorkshire, and she wasn’t much of a humorist (as much as Evelyn Waugh, to whose book Black Mischief this novel is compared).

Sometimes Mandoa, Mandoa! is funny, but it’s hidden in such a way that you have to read sentences again in order to really get it. Safi Talal, with his obsession with American culture (there’s even a Lord High Culture Promoter in Lolagoba) is probably one of the more interesting characters in the book, because he serves as a link between the natives and Europeans who try to “civilize” them. I enjoyed watching the interplay between the Mandoans and the Europeans, especially reading the list of rules for Mandoans (on pages 216-18). But I felt that a lot of the time the plot of the novel dragged and I couldn’t really get into it. It’s a shame considering that Winifred Holtby truly is one of my favorite authors.

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