Based on real events
What happens when a Scot becomes the Governor of Cape Coast?
What happens to his English born wife?
Who knows the truth?
Local Customs by Audrey Thomas –
George Maclean, was born in 1801 in Banffshire, Scotland and was the council president of Cape Coast, West Africa, who laid the groundwork for British rule of the Gold Coast.
In 1838 he married the poet and novelist Letitia (Letty) Elizabeth Landon or L.E.L. as she was more commonly known. She died a mysterious death a few months later. Was it from an overdose of prussic acid? Her doctor and chemist swore that they had never prescribed such a thing.
There are all sorts of rumours flying about. Was Letty involved with other men? Brodie Cruickshank is in love with her. Is she all she seems? Is George? Her husband describes her –
My wife was a woman who had lived entirely in her imagination
But what really happened to LEL in this exotic and dangerous place so far away from her home?
Local customs refers to the changes and new experiences that westerners in particular must get used to in order to settle in the new country and to do their jobs. We are introduced to Fante – the local language and the tradition of washing pregnant women in the river – things that seem strange and new to Letty at first. The heat and the humidity however, she learns to cope with, despite the fact that most visitors there find this the hardest thing to bear.
Letty may tell most of the story from her perspective but it is the changing view points from herself and George at the beginning, that I found the most interesting. When she tells us that she is dead however, it is hard to focus on anyone else.
The setting of this book was of course a large part of the attraction for The Book Trail and it doesn’t disappoint.
The two principal streets are very wide and lined with umbrella trees.
Chickens and children wander freely, women walk to and fro with babies trapped to their backs; men sit under a huge silk-cotton tree, talking and playing a game they call Oware
And of course the weather –
The rainy season was supposed to be ending, but one afternoon the skies opened and a torrent of rain descended; I had never seen anything like it. It was biblical the sort of rain poor Mr and Mrs Noah must have experiences as they floated away with their menagerie in the ark.
On another book trail note, Letty mentions that her favourite book as a girl was Robinson Crusoe and she explains how she thought he was clever and brave to be trapped on a desert island. She though this might be fun – having to create everything from scratch. Her innocence is coupled with a funny anecdote of how Friday may have got his name. This level of detail enriched the story and added a unique flavour to Letty’s thoughts.
Published by Dundurn Press in Canada, http://www.dundurn.com/books/local_customs – this is an intriguing story based on real events and takes you to Africa and shows you around.