Books by British author Norman Collins (1907-82) are now hard to find, which is a great shame as the two I have read by him, “London Belongs To Me” (1945) and “Bond Street Story” (1958) have both ended up in my end of year Top 10s. I was delighted to spot a hardback Book Club edition from around the time of publication in a vintage book section of a charity shop. Doubly delighted because Christopher Fowler in his “Book Of Forgotten Authors” (2017) who reminded me of this author said this was his favourite describing it as “ a colonial story of secrets, lies and endless ineptitude among Africans and the English.”
Although I was thrilled to find this to be honest I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it when I began it. Largely set in the 1930s in the fictional colonial nation of Amimbo my hackles were very much raised as to how this would read in 2022. It begins and ends with an epilogue set probably close to the time when it was published but travels back to the early 1930s for the bulk of the narrative.
It is the tale of Harold Stebbs who begins working as part of the Governor Sir Gardnor Hackforth’s team. The Governor is a man tolerated by the locals but holding out for the Viceroy of India post. His wife, of the title, is bored, drinks heavily and seeks lovers to pass the time and to get away from her companion Sybil who is unhealthily devoted to her. The action moves to a safari trip, where Hackforth becomes obsessed with hunting a leopard, in a section which I was also sure I wasn’t going to like but tragedy strikes more than once which takes the book into an unexpected direction.
There was something about reading this matt covered hardback from a Book Club of the late 60’s that I found reassuringly nostalgic and that probably had me more invested than if I had read an e-book edition. There’s definitely something about Collins’ writing style which I find so appealing. The richness of detail, as I have mentioned in reviews of his other books, can be almost Dickensian but there’s a delicious irony in the narrative voice which suggests he isn’t always taking things too seriously. This book which I wasn’t expecting to enjoy that much due to its settings and what I perceived its values would be ended up being thoroughly enjoyable and kept me involved until the end. Collins was a man very involved with the early days of commercial television and there’s a very visual, observational element to his work which is also quite splendid. That’s three out of three five star ratings for him and now I am going to have to do some hunting around to source other out of print titles. (He wrote 16 novels in a long career which spanned from 1932-81).
The Governor’s Lady was first published in 1968 by Collins in the UK. I read a hardbook Book Club edition.