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Please Do Not Disturb by Robert Glancy, Review: Snappy dialogue

Please Do Not Disturb is a funny, disturbing, and deeply affecting novel of power, corruption, and innocence in colonial Africa, by Robert Glancy, the author of Terms & Conditions.
Robert Glancy Please Do Not Disturb Book Review

Please Do Not Disturb Synopsis:

As the African nation of Bwalo prepares for The Big Day—the only day in the year the ailing King talks to his subjects—we meet five very different people:

Charlie, a curious boy with a dangerous dictaphone habit, eavesdrops on the eccentric guests of the Mirage Hotel.

Sean, an Irishman who’s given his heart (and the best part of his liver) to Bwalo, struggles to write the great African novel—if only his crazed fiancée and fierce thirst would stop distracting him.

Josef, the mythmaker and kingmaker who paved the way for Tafumo’s rise to power, starts to hear the ominous rattle of skeletons in his closet.

Hope, the nurse caring for the king, keeps the old man alive, maintaining the façade of the powerful ruler as she mourns her own broken dreams.

And in the countdown to the Big Day, storm clouds gather as a petty criminal, Jack, smuggles something into Bwalo—specifically to the Mirage Hotel—that will change the lives of all of them forever.

Unabridged Audiobook, Length: 9 hrs and 30 mins. Audible Studios for Bloomsbury
Narrated by: Peter Noble, Adjoa Andoh, Aidan Kelly, Malcolm Hamilton, Lucian Msamati

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BOOK REVIEW

Robert Glancy’s debut novel Terms & Conditions was amongst my favourite books of 2014, filled with wonderfully realized audacious characters and dialogue that is both hilariously caustic and heartfelt. So I have been eager to experience the next product from this talented author, Please Do Not Disturb, but decided to wait until I could get my hands on an audiobook copy.

Why? Because this novel’s structure, five characters’ alternating first-person narratives, is perfectly suited to the audio format. Add a cast of talented, and appropriately accented, audiobook narrators and the result is something that transcends the written word. Listen to an audio sample.

While I am no expert on the African continent’s political history, it is quickly apparent that in Please Do Not Disturb Robert Glancy has not strayed far from actual events he experienced as a child growing up in Malawi. In an interview with Better Reading he explains:

Bwalo is a thinly veiled version of Malawi. Tafumo, the fictional dictator, is based on Banda, Malawi’s real dictator. Power corrupted Banda completely. Near the end of his seemingly endless rule he was madder than a bag of snakes.’

Moving characterisation

The character Charlie is based on the author himself. Through this voice, Glancy injects a wonderful blend of naivety, goodwill and untainted curiosity to what is otherwise a powder keg of disillusionment, deception and (darkly humorous, in a literary sense) cynicism.

I stood with Dad and Ed at the front of the hotel and watched as the guest arrived. When the taxi pulled up, the passenger stumbled out, and Dad whispered through his smile, ‘Steel yourselves, men, we got a live one here.’

Dipped head-to-toe in khaki, the man wore what Mum called the UWA, the Uniform of White Africa, which she always said as if smelling a fart, Uwwwa.

In the posh accent Dad put on for guests, he said, ‘Welcome to the Mirage…’

Through the other voices (overlapping narratives offering different perspectives and interpretations of the same events) Glancy perceptively explores the myriad of human motivations from idealism and altruism to ego and fanaticism.

What I most admire, and why a tale of such dire circumstances can be so entertaining, is that it humanizes the various players in such regimes and focuses on the commonalities – the arrogance and folly of man. The snappy dialogue is also a real treat for those that enjoy wordplay.

Please Do Not Disturb is a timely reminder that truth really can be stranger than fiction, and of the harm that can stem from ignorance and idealism at its extremes.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5  —  Overall 4.25

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Genre: Literature, Drama, Humour, Action-Adventure

UPDATE: I have since also now read Glancy’s third published title, Unconditional, the deeply moving sequel to his debut Terms & Conditions.

About the Author, Robert Glancy

Robert Glancy was born in Zambia and raised in Malawi. At fourteen he moved from Africa to Edinburgh then went on to study history at Cambridge. His first novel, Terms & Conditions, was published by Bloomsbury in 2014 to critical acclaim. He was recently been awarded the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship in New Zealand, where he currently lives with his wife and children. His second book, Please Do Not Disturb, was published by Bloomsbury in 2016. As well as writing books, he has also written articles for The Guardian, The Independent, Daily Telegraph, Conde Nast and Esquire. Check out Robert’s website or connect with him on Twitter.