Au revoir et merci

Christopher Tayler

We are in the African bush, at night, in the mid-1950s. At a campfire Father Tassin, a Jesuit palaeontologist, is questioning Saint-Denis, the French colonial administrator of this corner of Chad. Tassin is looking for information about a mysterious figure called Morel, whose recent activities have scandalised all of French Equatorial Africa. Saint-Denis begins to recount lengthy conversations he had with people who recounted to him other people’s lengthy speeches about the unforgettable impression Morel made on them. The narrative layers, and the numbers of inverted commas required, get quite hard to keep track of. But every so often the administrator pauses for a while and considers the primordial landscape around him, while the Jesuit – whose superiors, we’re told, suspect him of having heterodox views – waits in imperturbable silence for the story to resume.

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