Shortlisted 1999 Encore Award
Phil Whitaker divides his time between working as a GP and writing. He lives in Oxford with his wife and baby daughter
In the same spirit if not in the same class as The Remains of the Day and The English Patient, British author Whitaker's second novel (but first to be published here) tells the story of a repressed mapmaker whose final effort to change the course of his existence prompts him to reflect on a decades-old romance, stirring up buried passions and old disappointments. On his last day before retirement from a 40-year position in the Ordnance Survey department of the English government in Southampton, John Hopkins gets an e-mail whose offhand mention of a small town drives him to seek out an old love there. Whitaker constructs the novel around the narrator's en route perusal of his earliest correspondence files, reproducing letters and news reports to help readers piece together the sad story. In the '50s, a love triangle is established between three surveyors: Hopkins; the spirited and unpredictable Laurance Wallace, on assignment in deepest Africa; and Helen Gardner, a smart young woman from the country who has just taken up a position in Hopkins's organization. The mild-mannered Hopkins desperately wants a stable relationship with Gardner, but his hopes dissolve when the more sexually experienced and worldly Wallace sweeps her off her feet. Wallace lures Gardner to Africa for a sudden and romantic marriage; however, past indiscretions surface to ultimately invalidate their union and tarnish his golden image. While Hopkins languishes in loneliness, Wallace pays the price for his love of risk in the wilds of a still-untamed continent. Whitaker's meticulous prose is shot through with a veneration for gallant heroism and even a touch of nostalgia for the questionable glories of imperialism. Though the narrator's extreme reserve threatens to squelch the passion and torment the author so carefully fosters, the narrative moves gracefully toward its tragic end. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.