A review of the book by Christina Lamb.
The True story of a ‘correct’ English gentleman and his African Dream.
“correct” In the sub-title to this review is my own addition to the phrase on the cover of the book, by Christina Lamb. Christina relates to us the true story of Stewart Gore-Brown, a man with a dream who, at times, seems to be a contradictory, unsympathetic and driven character. The story was compiled to a large extent from the letters between between Gore-Brown and his aunt, Ethel Locke-King. The owner of the Brooklands estate, with its motor racing circuit, Ethel herself being one of the first women to drive a race car.
Although in the early stages of the book it is easy to feel unsympathetic to Gore-Brown, it is important to remember the era in which he was brought up, the last years of the British Empire, and the behaviour and attitude that would have been considered appropriate in that age. Gore-Brown was a product of public school and the military, which naturally coloured the rest of his life. He clearly read widely and was a thinker himself capable of formulating and developing his own ideas.
Was Gore-Browns dream to live in Africa? Perhaps not to begin with. Africa might at first have just presented a solution, to the problem of the kind of estate he had dreamed of owning but did not have the financial wherewithall to acquire in England. Over the course of his life in Africa however, what began as a dream of property ownership transformed into something more, something that would benefit the African people. There were still times though when it seemed Gore-Brown couldn’t escape his upbringing, regarding how he treated individuals compared to his changing attitude to the African people.
Gore-Brown was a complex, possibly lonely man who arguably lived part of his life by substitution. His African home might, at least in the beginning, have been a substitute for what he couldn’t afford in England. His wife, Lorna, was a substitute for her own mother, also named Lorna, in Gore-Brown’s affections and both of these women were substitutes for possibly the only woman he truly loved, his aunt, Ethel Locke-King (who you might think after reading The Africa House, deserves her own book). It is also abundantly clear from the book, that Gore-Brown loved his and Lorna’s children deeply but that his own childhood had taught him very little about how to relate to them.
Christina Lamb’s telling of Stewart Gore-Brown’s biography says as much about the thoroughness of her research and her writing ability, as it does about the military Gentleman she writes about. Originally published in 1999 and available new from Amazon, I was lucky enough to find a good quality used edition that cost me the princely sum of £1.74 (inc. P&P) from abebooks.co.uk and at the time of writing is still available from them at the same price.
To date this is the only book by Lamb that I have read and I enjoyed it very much. You might too.