A Chimpanzee in the Wine Cellar

posted in: Book Reviews | 0


by Patricia Cavendish O’Neil

Published 2012

Rating: 1.0

I picked up this book hoping to stir some enthusiasm for an upcoming safari in Kenya and Tanzania and a visit to South Africa.   This book failed in every measurable way.  The author is clearly a lover of animals, and of prized race horses in particular.  Born into privilege in 1925, she used her considerable financial resources to live a self-indulgent life, traveling the world, falling into and out of love with gorgeous men, having thoroughly wonderful experiences, owning a series of the best race horses ever, and living the most lovely of lives. She presumably learned this way of life from her mother, who according to the author was one of the world’s six most beautiful women, also born into privilege, and also in possession of a most fabulous life.

After learning of the ‘wonderfulness’ of the author’s pedigree, the reader hopes for something entertaining, important, or educational to happen.  It never does.   With the author’s money and connections she is in a position to improve the world, however she instead opts for a life of lovely acquisitions.  Much of the text is about her time in South Africa, having the most wonderful experiences on her mother’s beautiful farm.  Her only reference to the fact of apartheid at the time was that it was ‘horrid’.   The reader craves some detail, nuance, or insightful commentary from this ugly episode in South Africa, but the author instead continues with her endless list of spending ‘mummy’s’ money on races horses and lovers.

She does relay a few anecdotes about the lioness, baboons, chimps and other animals that she rescues and raises, including the few times that these animals saved her life.  Yet rather than focus on these events, or expand on them in some entertaining or educational way, her days in Kenya merely add to her endless collection of ‘wonderful’ experiences.  There is no story here.  The reader ends up fast-forwarding through a very long list of events and names.  Dates or even years are sparsely mentioned, so there is not much of a sense of timeline.  There is minimal character development, no protagonist, no struggle, no one to cheer for, and no story line.

Finally, in the later chapters we learn that the author runs out of money and admits that neither she nor her husband possessed any skill in either earning or managing it.  In other words, in her later years she is broke, which is presumably why she wrote this book.  Apparently she did not know enough to hire a ghost writer.  Which brings me to my final point of this pointless tome: the author is guilty of adjective-inflation.  She uses the words ‘wonderful’, ‘lovely’, ‘fabulous’, ‘marvelous’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘charming’ and similar embellishments so often that they become meaningless.  In conclusion, Kindle needs a better fast-forward button.