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‘Happy Valley’ was the name given to the region of Kenya’s Central Highlands where a community of affluent, hedonistic white expatriates settled between the wars. Including the writer Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), the pioneering aviator Beryl Markham and the troubled socialite Idina Sackville whose life was told in Frances Osborne’s bestselling The Bolter, the Happy Valley ‘Happy Valley’ was the name given to the region of Kenya’s Central Highlands where a community of affluent, hedonistic white expatriates settled between the wars. Including the writer Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), the pioneering aviator Beryl Markham and the troubled socialite Idina Sackville whose life was told in Frances Osborne’s bestselling The Bolter, the Happy Valley set’s notoriety was sealed in 1941 with the sensational – and still unsolved - murder of the Earl of Errol, the investigation of which laid bare the extent of the set’s decadence and irresponsibility, and made for another bestselling book in James Fox’s White Mischief. But what is left now? Juliet Barnes, who has lived in Kenya for many years, has set out to explore Happy Valley in a remarkable and indefatigable archaeological quest to find the homes and haunts of this extraordinary and vanished set of people – grand residences like Clouds up in the hills that once hosted opulent and scandalous parties. With the help of African guides, and guided by the memories of elderly expats she tracks down to the Muthiaga old enough to have first-hand memories of the likes of Idina and Lord Errol and the lives they led, what she finds - ruins reclaimed by luxuriant bush, tumbledown dwellings in which an African family ekes a subsistence living, or even a modest school – is a revelation of the state of modern Africa that makes the gilded era of the Happy Valley set seem even more fantastic. A book to set alongside such singular evocations of Africa and its strange colonial history as The Africa House, Happy Valley: The Biography is a mesmerising blend of travel narrative, social history and personal quest.


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‘Happy Valley’ was the name given to the region of Kenya’s Central Highlands where a community of affluent, hedonistic white expatriates settled between the wars. Including the writer Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), the pioneering aviator Beryl Markham and the troubled socialite Idina Sackville whose life was told in Frances Osborne’s bestselling The Bolter, the Happy Valley ‘Happy Valley’ was the name given to the region of Kenya’s Central Highlands where a community of affluent, hedonistic white expatriates settled between the wars. Including the writer Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), the pioneering aviator Beryl Markham and the troubled socialite Idina Sackville whose life was told in Frances Osborne’s bestselling The Bolter, the Happy Valley set’s notoriety was sealed in 1941 with the sensational – and still unsolved - murder of the Earl of Errol, the investigation of which laid bare the extent of the set’s decadence and irresponsibility, and made for another bestselling book in James Fox’s White Mischief. But what is left now? Juliet Barnes, who has lived in Kenya for many years, has set out to explore Happy Valley in a remarkable and indefatigable archaeological quest to find the homes and haunts of this extraordinary and vanished set of people – grand residences like Clouds up in the hills that once hosted opulent and scandalous parties. With the help of African guides, and guided by the memories of elderly expats she tracks down to the Muthiaga old enough to have first-hand memories of the likes of Idina and Lord Errol and the lives they led, what she finds - ruins reclaimed by luxuriant bush, tumbledown dwellings in which an African family ekes a subsistence living, or even a modest school – is a revelation of the state of modern Africa that makes the gilded era of the Happy Valley set seem even more fantastic. A book to set alongside such singular evocations of Africa and its strange colonial history as The Africa House, Happy Valley: The Biography is a mesmerising blend of travel narrative, social history and personal quest.

30 review for The Ghosts of Happy Valley: The Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan C

    This is the third book I have read (still have more to read) on the adventurers of Happy Valley. Juliet Barnes lives in Kenya and is the descendant of grandparents who settled in Kenya, but not in Happy Valley; they went there to work, not to carouse. I have read the beginning of Errol Trzebinski's book, The Life and Death of Lord Erroll: The Truth Behind the Happy Valley Murder, and she apparently presents the theory that the murder was organized by MI6. It is not really clear whether Barnes agr This is the third book I have read (still have more to read) on the adventurers of Happy Valley. Juliet Barnes lives in Kenya and is the descendant of grandparents who settled in Kenya, but not in Happy Valley; they went there to work, not to carouse. I have read the beginning of Errol Trzebinski's book, The Life and Death of Lord Erroll: The Truth Behind the Happy Valley Murder, and she apparently presents the theory that the murder was organized by MI6. It is not really clear whether Barnes agrees with this theory. She presents it toward the end of the book. I enjoyed her talking to all the old hands she could find, through her relations and friends, etc.. Seeing how Happy Valley has changed since Lady Idina (The Bolter: Edwardian Heartbreak and High Society Scandal in Kenya by Frances Osborne) had been active at Slains and Cloud.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ally

    If you read this book after you've read others about the 'Happy Valley' set or the murder of the Earl of Erroll it's a good book with a different approach that is well worth a read but if you want to know more about the people and the murder mystery it is probably better to try other books first. I'm really interested in the legacy of Britain's colonial past and this book does a good job of exploring that. The author goes in search of the houses once lived in by the now infamous characters of Ken If you read this book after you've read others about the 'Happy Valley' set or the murder of the Earl of Erroll it's a good book with a different approach that is well worth a read but if you want to know more about the people and the murder mystery it is probably better to try other books first. I'm really interested in the legacy of Britain's colonial past and this book does a good job of exploring that. The author goes in search of the houses once lived in by the now infamous characters of Kenya's 'Happy Valley' from the 1920s and 30s. She finds some of the houses still standing, some put to new uses as schools and some only ruins. She talks to many elders within both the white and the Kikuyu community who knew the people that had lived there and were pleased to share their memories. She covers right the way up to the time of Mau Mau and independence and beyond. She weaves in some of the spirituality of the people and the traditions of the area and the idea of good and bad spirits working in certain places. Her guide Solomon, a keen conservationist, offers a really good view of how the area has changed in the almost 100 years that have now passed and the effects of deforestation and land clearances on the ecosystem and wildlife of the area. The snippets of information you get about the farmers and aristocrats who once lived there are fascinating and sometimes terrifying but they are just snippets and overall I felt that the book didn't really hold together very well. It seemed to have been almost a diary of the research that the author had undertaken recounting 10 or more years worth of visits to the region and the different houses seen on each visit in chronological order. This meant that stories about the houses and the people were fragmented and I felt that it might have been better to group chapters around each of the houses in turn and spend a good chunk of time talking about what had been learnt about that house and its inhabitants. One thing that the author does well towards the end of the book is to almost summarise other books written about the death of the Earl of Erroll and the various theories about who could have been responsible for the murder. In those summaries the author alights on a brand new character like Beryl Markham or murder theories such as MI6 perhaps being involved and it's such a small but tantalising entry that is not fully explored and that leaves you wanting much more...so I'm off to find some of the books she's mentioned so that I can read on!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    The Ghosts of Happy Valley did have its good points. I particularly appreciated the focus on the current problems of the Happy Valley area as well as it's controversial past, and Barnes' final observations that we should perhaps be more focused on these (especially rapid and increasing environment destruction) then the legacy of the so-called 'Happy Valley set'. But, on the whole the book suffered from being extremely convoluted. Barnes jumps back and forth constantly, from past to present, and The Ghosts of Happy Valley did have its good points. I particularly appreciated the focus on the current problems of the Happy Valley area as well as it's controversial past, and Barnes' final observations that we should perhaps be more focused on these (especially rapid and increasing environment destruction) then the legacy of the so-called 'Happy Valley set'. But, on the whole the book suffered from being extremely convoluted. Barnes jumps back and forth constantly, from past to present, and from past to other points in the past, with no consistency whatsoever. It makes The Ghosts of Happy Valley a difficult read, as you struggle to keep track of what point in time Barnes is addressing (not to mention who is who, and who was married to who). Just a little bit more structure really would have made a difference. This is muddled further by the fact that the author is obviously well-connected with the descendants of those she is writing about, and personally knew others (in the later generations of white settlement in the area). However she avoids giving any specific details about her position, which I find intolerable from an "acknowledgement of personal bias" point of view, but also her vague references to how much visiting some areas or speaking with some people meant to her couldn't be fully understood by the reader. That in itself probably would have only dragged it down to a three for me, but Barnes' personal bias has, in places, an even more damaging effect which I found unforgivable and means some statements in the book come across as at best misinformed, and at worst, racist. Two examples: - on multiple occasions Barnes writes off the reports of black primary sources (who were young household staff in the heyday of Happy Valley) who don't support her arguments in favour of white secondary sources (who she otherwise consistently argues throughout the book often make major errors, due to a lack of fact checking or even visiting Kenya when writing) because "natives in the area often just say what they think you want to hear" (approx. quote). This is given no further justification. In other words, we should take white secondary sources at their word, even though they are proven to be inaccurate elsewhere, because apparently black natives lie?????!!!! Really???!!! - when visiting a black native household (obviously living in a state of poverty), the author is confronted by many giggling children. Later, when she visits the outdoor latrine, she is met by another child of the household with water so she can wash her hands. This child is deferential (or shy) and does not giggle. The relating of this story is immediately followed by an explanation that in this area it is common for unwanted children to be sent to relatives as servants and are then often abused (Barnes specifically mentions sexually). It is heavily implied that this shy child is one such instance. There is no other context given. REALLY!!! A child not giggling at the sight of a stranger and being sent to serve you = serious (probably sexual) abuse??? The author is either making heavy and dangerous assumptions, in which skin colour and/or social status appear to be a large factor, or just not giving the reader enough information to form an informed picture of what is happening in this scenario. Either way, it's just straight out wrong and shouldn't have a place in this text. As it is, these last factors means The Ghosts of Happy Valley can only have a one star (and would have less if I could give it). The examination of current Happy Valley concerns was interesting, but not enough to make me want to recommend this book to ANYONE, EVER.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Charles Inglin

    The author, a white Kenyan and granddaughter of settlers in Kenya, with her friend and guide Solomon, a Kikuyu conservationist, set out in search of what remained of the homes of the infamous "Happy Valley Set." Happy Valley is a region on the west side of the Aberdare Mountains, so named by the first white settler because the high elevation (7-8,000 ft.) moderated temperatures and provided sufficient rainfall to allow European style farming. The name Happy Valley gained notoriety in the 1920's The author, a white Kenyan and granddaughter of settlers in Kenya, with her friend and guide Solomon, a Kikuyu conservationist, set out in search of what remained of the homes of the infamous "Happy Valley Set." Happy Valley is a region on the west side of the Aberdare Mountains, so named by the first white settler because the high elevation (7-8,000 ft.) moderated temperatures and provided sufficient rainfall to allow European style farming. The name Happy Valley gained notoriety in the 1920's and '30's from the lifestyle of some of the settlers. Kenya at that time was a place that, besides ordinary, hard-working farmers, attracted certain members of the upper class who were unhappy in England or whose families preferred they get out of England and the limelight and stop besmirching the family name. The 5th Lord Delamere (who was the author's landlord and descendent of the 3rd Lord Delamere who was central to settling Kenya) described the Happy Valley Set as "a dozen bored people" who drank too much alcohol and did too much cocaine. Kenya at the time was a place where they could acquire large tracts of farmland, hire cheap native labor and maintain a staff of servants to maintain a lifestyle they could never afford in the UK. With hired managers for their farms they had the leisure time to indulge themselves in wild parties that featured booze, drugs and swapping sexual partners, to the disgust of the majority of white farmers who felt they brought disrepute on the entire colony. The end began with the notorious murder (still unsolved) of Joss Hay, the 22nd Earl of Errol and one of the most notorious womanizers in the colony, in 1941, featured in the book and movie "White Mischief." With independence the British government bought up many of the farms for distribution to the native Kikuyu tribespeople, largely ending the era of white farming in Happy Valley. As the author discovered, a white face in Happy Valley is so unusual that many Kikuyu children had never seen a white person before. Over the course of ten years the author set out to see what remained of the houses of the Happy Valley Set and other settlers, some of which have become schools, homes for extended African families, or fallen into ruins. In the process she paints a picture not only of a unique era in British colonial Africa but also the transition to modern Kenya, a country struggling with poverty, environmental destruction, and corruption, but also a resilient people getting on with their lives and trying to do the best with what they have. A good read for those interested in the history of East Africa. A good companion volume to this would be "The Bolter" by Francis Osbourne, about her great-grandmother, Idina, one of the key members of the Happy Valley Set.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Angie Hopwood

    What happened to the Colonial Dream after the likes of Karen Blixen left and the deaths of Lord Erroll, Idina Sackville, Alice de Janze and Diana Delamere? I grew up largely in old early 20th century ex-colonial homes (one farmhouse in particular resonates) in Kenya and can still remember the scent of the cedarwood and dust after the rains over 20 years after leaving East Africa. Sadly my favourite childhood home (an old cedarwood bungalow built on stilts- c1915- on the edge of Karen Blixen's (Out What happened to the Colonial Dream after the likes of Karen Blixen left and the deaths of Lord Erroll, Idina Sackville, Alice de Janze and Diana Delamere? I grew up largely in old early 20th century ex-colonial homes (one farmhouse in particular resonates) in Kenya and can still remember the scent of the cedarwood and dust after the rains over 20 years after leaving East Africa. Sadly my favourite childhood home (an old cedarwood bungalow built on stilts- c1915- on the edge of Karen Blixen's (Out of Africa) farm) is long gone in the face of modern developments but I always felt it's dark wood panelled walls murmured quietly to itself of its grand history. If there was a time in history that I could travel back to- this would be it. Not- for the social and racial segregation... (there was good and bad then as there is today- Elspeth Huxley couldn't have put it better when she wrote "little has changed for the average indigenous African since Independence but for the colour of the skin of their oppressor") ....I admire the true pioneer spirit that led people to invest their last pennies in untried territory and ventures- many of whom died destitute or returned to Europe/ South Africa broken by an amazing land. And for those that succeeded (black and white) to forge new paths and lives and who continue to do so today.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    This is a book that looks into the lives of the British aristocrats who rebeled against convention in the early 20th Century, escaping to an enclave in Kenya, where they lived a life of privilege and decadence until it all fell apart. It ended, of course, in ruined lives, drugs, alcoholism, suicide and even a famous murder. The author spent several years traveling the area of Africa where these stories took place, searching for the remains of the once grand houses, talking to the people who reme This is a book that looks into the lives of the British aristocrats who rebeled against convention in the early 20th Century, escaping to an enclave in Kenya, where they lived a life of privilege and decadence until it all fell apart. It ended, of course, in ruined lives, drugs, alcoholism, suicide and even a famous murder. The author spent several years traveling the area of Africa where these stories took place, searching for the remains of the once grand houses, talking to the people who remembered stories of them. She tells this all tastefully, with respect for the land, the living and those who have passed into history.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eule Luftschloss

    trigger warning (view spoiler)[alcoholism, domestic abuse, child neglect, rape, homophobia, racism, atrocities of war, physical punishment in schools, the dog dies, abortion, miscarriage, being unable to concieve (hide spoiler)] Part biography, part travellogue, this book tells about the traces British colonialism has left in Kenya, especially in the area called Happy Valley and the clique of white aristocrats who liked to party. A lot. Juliet Barnes travelled with local activist Solomon Gitau, wh trigger warning (view spoiler)[alcoholism, domestic abuse, child neglect, rape, homophobia, racism, atrocities of war, physical punishment in schools, the dog dies, abortion, miscarriage, being unable to concieve (hide spoiler)] Part biography, part travellogue, this book tells about the traces British colonialism has left in Kenya, especially in the area called Happy Valley and the clique of white aristocrats who liked to party. A lot. Juliet Barnes travelled with local activist Solomon Gitau, who tries to raise awareness for the vulnerability of the exploited nature. In the first half of the book, I found the topics switched quite randomly depending on where she travelled, and what she learned there, but the latter half felt more ordered and not as jumpy. I learned a lot. Both about this random clique who dissipated after a still unsolved murder, and Kenya as such - past and present. Of course, it would be better to read an ownvoices book if you wanna learn, but I read this because it sounded fun, it has a murder mystery and allegedly haunted buildings. Those are always a way to get me intrigued.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Entertaining in spite of an infodump of genealogical details that made my brain hurt. Still, I am fascinated by Happy Valley and the disreputable band of ex-pats that partied hard there between the wars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I found the period of history from after the first world war when the British started to colonise Kenya, right up to the fifties and the Mau Mau uprising fascinating the most interesting period was in the 1930’s when a group of dissolute English aristocracy made Kenya their homes and led lives of debauchery this culminated in the murder of the Earl of Errol which has never been satisfactorily explained. James Fox based his book (later made into a film) White Mischief on these events and over the I found the period of history from after the first world war when the British started to colonise Kenya, right up to the fifties and the Mau Mau uprising fascinating the most interesting period was in the 1930’s when a group of dissolute English aristocracy made Kenya their homes and led lives of debauchery this culminated in the murder of the Earl of Errol which has never been satisfactorily explained. James Fox based his book (later made into a film) White Mischief on these events and over the years there has been several theories to who the killer may have been. After reading his book I often wondered what happened to all these wonderful houses that were built and if anyone had ever bothered to look for them. This book by Juliet Barnes answered all my questions. The book was obviously researched over many years and many of the houses were found unfortunately many of them now just ruins. Juliet managed to find many elderly people who had first-hand experience of meeting many of the characters in the “White Mischief “. This book also has another parallel story running through it, the present, she meets up with an unusual character, Solomon, who has spent his life caring about the animals which are being killed off (especially the plight of the Colobus monkeys) the landscape is being destroyed as people try to eke out a living in any way they can, to be honest it made depressing reading, to think of the glories of Kenya in the 30’s when animals and vegetation were abundant, to the picture that is painted now. Corruption in the country is rife and any foreigner trying to stand up to it is run out of the country, for any Kenyan it can even lead to death. One funny thing I did notice was there was no input from Jaunita Carberry ( who died a few months ago ) she was always cited as a witness in the Errol case , I think even if approached she probably refused, as over the years so many journalists would have beaten a track to her door, Barnes dismisses her as an hysterical school girl (15 at the time of the murder )an attention seeker and sniffily dismisses her autobiography “ child of happy valley “ as boring even though it has got excellent reviews from readers ! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in this period in the history of Kenya and the British.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Santina Nyagah

    A great book,did not want to finish reading it.Having read the other books on the Happy Valley set, this is a favorite as it gives more details on the background of the early settlers in the Happy Valley region of Kenya.I like that the writer gives her story a lot of depth as she gives a lot of historical context to the characters in this period of Kenya's history. Will definitely be reading it again.

  11. 4 out of 5

    HansBlog.de

    Kurzer Auszug a.d. viel längeren Rezension m. Links u. Hintergründen i. m. Blog: Juliet Barnes berichtet über das skandalumwitterte kenianische Happy Valley in den 1920er bis 1940er Jahren – bis zum Mord an Josslyn Hay (Earl of Erroll) 1941. Zugleich erzählt sie ausführlich von ihren Recherchen, Begegnungen und Autofahrten im Happy Valley zwischen etwa 2000 und 2010. Sie lebt offenbar selbst dauerhaft in Kenia und bringt viele Reportage-Eindrücke, besucht unter anderem mehrfach das Anwesen der b Kurzer Auszug a.d. viel längeren Rezension m. Links u. Hintergründen i. m. Blog: Juliet Barnes berichtet über das skandalumwitterte kenianische Happy Valley in den 1920er bis 1940er Jahren – bis zum Mord an Josslyn Hay (Earl of Erroll) 1941. Zugleich erzählt sie ausführlich von ihren Recherchen, Begegnungen und Autofahrten im Happy Valley zwischen etwa 2000 und 2010. Sie lebt offenbar selbst dauerhaft in Kenia und bringt viele Reportage-Eindrücke, besucht unter anderem mehrfach das Anwesen der berühmten Partymeisterin Idina Sackville und begleitet Frances Osborne bei Recherchen zu deren Buch The Bolter über Osborne-Urgroßmutter Idina Sackville. Doch ich konnte Barnes' Ghosts of Happy Valley nur etwa bis zur Seite 50 lesen und hängte dann noch ein bisschen Kapitel-Hopping an. Denn Ghosts of Happy Valley hat zu viele Schwächen: - Juliet Barnes denkt manchmal schneller, als sie schreibt, die Themenwechsel und Sprünge sind nicht nachvollziehbar; eine Zeitlang bleibt auch unklar, wie sie selbst mit Kenia verbunden ist - sie flicht zu viele persönliche Ephemera ein, die keinen interessieren: "(I) wondered if I had a pen and notebook… I hadn't even taken a camera. This spontanous Happy Valley Tour was just supposed to be an interesting day out. So it was to prove. I hauled my Land Rover…" (S. 13 in meinem 2014er-TB von Aurum Press); warum schreibt sie das? Warum nimmt sie Stift und Kamera nicht mit?); "Houses have always fascinated me. To me they are… I especially love old houses" (S. 33); "I was about to get inside Clouds! ((historische Villa))... What would Idina have said?" (S. 22) - viele sehr spezielle Happy-Valley-Details, die nicht persönlich betroffene Leser kaum interessieren - viel zu ausführlich über ihren afrikanischen Begleiter Solomon, ein Tierschützer und Hobbyhistoriker. Sie zitiert sogar Solomons Träume (u.a. S. 210) und Polizeimisshandlungen und widmet ihm das Buch.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frances Johnson

    Happy Valley was a community in Kenya, between the wars, that was known for the British upper class who liked drinking, drugging, and climbing into bed with each others wives and husbands. There was an infamous murder of one of their members which has never been solved. The author who lives in Kenya started searching for answers to the murder as well as visiting the remains of the Happy Valley big houses, as well as interviewing everyone she could find that remembers the Happy Valley set. The boo Happy Valley was a community in Kenya, between the wars, that was known for the British upper class who liked drinking, drugging, and climbing into bed with each others wives and husbands. There was an infamous murder of one of their members which has never been solved. The author who lives in Kenya started searching for answers to the murder as well as visiting the remains of the Happy Valley big houses, as well as interviewing everyone she could find that remembers the Happy Valley set. The book has little about the supposed wild goings on. You have to go elsewhere for that. However, her visits to what is left of the grand houses and her interviews of the people who either still live in the area or at least remember some of the Happy Valley participants are quite interesting. Many of the houses are in very bad shape or gone but their flower gardens, turned wild, are still there. She didn't solve the murder but she had several ideas of what may have happened. I have my idea too but I will leave that for you to decide.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dianne Landry

    Finally I broke my book slump. Back in the 1920s and 30s rich English people moved to Happy Valley in Kenya. There were many stories of booze, drugs and especially partner swapping. it all pretty much came to an end in 1941 with the still unsolved murder of Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll. This book isn't a rehash of that old story. Instead the author and her guide, Solomon, explore Happy Valley and rediscover to old homesteads of this hedonistic group. Along the way they spend time with old peo Finally I broke my book slump. Back in the 1920s and 30s rich English people moved to Happy Valley in Kenya. There were many stories of booze, drugs and especially partner swapping. it all pretty much came to an end in 1941 with the still unsolved murder of Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll. This book isn't a rehash of that old story. Instead the author and her guide, Solomon, explore Happy Valley and rediscover to old homesteads of this hedonistic group. Along the way they spend time with old people who remember them as well as the young people now occupying the run down, sometimes almost ruined houses. It was an interesting look at the passage of time and how memories can attach to a place even when all the inhabitants are dead and gone.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brooks Goddard

    Not all white Kenyans are obsessed by minor titles and raucous behavior, but a certain segment are, and thus we have this book which documents but does not enlighten. Barnes informs us of the lost world of a small area of central Kenya in the time period of 1920 to 1955. She searches diligently for the remnants of houses, now dilapidated, guided by Solomon Gitau who has a side interest in colobus monkeys. Odious people, talk of Michelangelo, crumbling houses, maybe enough for an article in Old A Not all white Kenyans are obsessed by minor titles and raucous behavior, but a certain segment are, and thus we have this book which documents but does not enlighten. Barnes informs us of the lost world of a small area of central Kenya in the time period of 1920 to 1955. She searches diligently for the remnants of houses, now dilapidated, guided by Solomon Gitau who has a side interest in colobus monkeys. Odious people, talk of Michelangelo, crumbling houses, maybe enough for an article in Old Africa.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kim Mayorga

    Interesting topic. I’ve read many books about Happy Valley but this one takes place in the now, what’s happened to all those infamous homes. It was a slow read, and had choppy organization, but I did like it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Oona

    About six chapters too long. Vivid and enjoyable first half though.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Felgona Adhiambo

    Struggled to get through this book and truth be told, I didn't get to the end. The story lacked progression, was too long, repetitive, and had unnecessary character introductions you couldn't possibly keep up with who was who (aaargh the name-dropping was annoying).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shelley Marie-Sainte

    Fascinating

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Coombes

    This is a non-fiction story of an area of Kenya named, Happy Valley. In the 1920s to the years after WWII, a group of white, affluent expatriates settled here. They were know for their wild parties of spouse swapping, excessive drinking and drugs and the still unexplained murder of Earl of Errol. The author did a great job of research. I think over a decade of collecting stories from family members and staff still alive, visiting the old ruins of the homes of this decade and researching past bio This is a non-fiction story of an area of Kenya named, Happy Valley. In the 1920s to the years after WWII, a group of white, affluent expatriates settled here. They were know for their wild parties of spouse swapping, excessive drinking and drugs and the still unexplained murder of Earl of Errol. The author did a great job of research. I think over a decade of collecting stories from family members and staff still alive, visiting the old ruins of the homes of this decade and researching past biographies was done by the author, herself a resident of Africa. Because no one ever confessed to the death of the earl and no witness came forward, the real story died along with all the residents of Happy Valley. The only disappointing part of the book was that the author was not able to really dig into exactly what went on at these parties, what led to the suicides of some of it well known partiers, and what these residents were really like. The author was fantastic in her research, but because all of these eccentric expatriates have died, we only get to scratch the surface of their lives. Juliet Barnes focuses more on research of the homes and what could be gleaned from biographies and second hand info. Pretty interesting and fascinating glimpse into this time and era. I received a complimentary copy from Goodreads giveaway program.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Heath-Caldwell

    Juliet Barnes takes time off from painting flamingos to explore the exotic history of the Happy Valley set of Kenya in the interwar era, starting off with a return to Clouds House, Lady Idina's old place. Rather interesting history for me having done Quentin M's new version, Clouds in the Macedon Ranges near Hanging Rock. I was most surprised when she said she was quite familiar with the old places in Kenya, Clouds, Nderit and Tsavo, met Boy Long but missed Genessie. Was even more surprised up h Juliet Barnes takes time off from painting flamingos to explore the exotic history of the Happy Valley set of Kenya in the interwar era, starting off with a return to Clouds House, Lady Idina's old place. Rather interesting history for me having done Quentin M's new version, Clouds in the Macedon Ranges near Hanging Rock. I was most surprised when she said she was quite familiar with the old places in Kenya, Clouds, Nderit and Tsavo, met Boy Long but missed Genessie. Was even more surprised up here Brisbane way when a client turned up with a big coffee table book of Australian country house, with Quentin's old place at Sanderswood highlighted with yellow post-it tags, the caste iron dogs are the front door and the odd chandelier in the entryway that we transferred to the new Clouds house. The client has acquired two half built Hansel-and Gretal style houses from divorcing Germans, and we turned them into one big grand Australian style place with that spare, pared back elegant look that many old Australian houses possess.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    3½ nudging 4 Really interesting book about Happy Valley in Kenya, notorious for the excesses of the white settlers in the 1930s and 40's. The author spent a long period researching this book and unfortunately this shows - I have a good memory but often got completely bogged down with who was married to who, who lived where etc. The storyline hops around much as the research must have done - trips here, there and everywhere over a period of several years. I am sure Juliet Barnes lived and breathed a 3½ nudging 4 Really interesting book about Happy Valley in Kenya, notorious for the excesses of the white settlers in the 1930s and 40's. The author spent a long period researching this book and unfortunately this shows - I have a good memory but often got completely bogged down with who was married to who, who lived where etc. The storyline hops around much as the research must have done - trips here, there and everywhere over a period of several years. I am sure Juliet Barnes lived and breathed all this information (and she lives in Kenya too) but it was confusing and muddling to the reader who probably only knows about White Mischief or The Bolter. Some sort of list of characters would be helpful. I would also have loved more photographs of the main characters - Alice, Idina, Diana, Jos etc. Instead I am peering at tiny little snaps trying to see what they looked like!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ian Abrahams

    Muddled. I get that the author wanted to weave in modern day issues with her investigation into the bed-hopping antics of Happy Valley's heyday, and understand that in visiting the houses, and the ruins of houses, once inhabited by those characters, that she saw this in a non-linear way. But with a big cast of people to marshal and inter-relate the stories of, this is a confusing mess of timelines. A book with a big ambition that almost certainly needed a clear-headed editorial overview to succee Muddled. I get that the author wanted to weave in modern day issues with her investigation into the bed-hopping antics of Happy Valley's heyday, and understand that in visiting the houses, and the ruins of houses, once inhabited by those characters, that she saw this in a non-linear way. But with a big cast of people to marshal and inter-relate the stories of, this is a confusing mess of timelines. A book with a big ambition that almost certainly needed a clear-headed editorial overview to succeed.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Helen Mead

    I liked the way Juliet Barnes shows how the houses which once belonged to the rich, debauched "Happy Valley' lot, now belong to the Kikuyu people, who are trying to make a living from growing crops in the once beautiful, landscaped gardens. The houses are all now in a state of disrepair, but the views and surrounding countryside unchanged. However, although well researched the author jumped from one house to another and from one character to another to such an extent that it was confusing and I I liked the way Juliet Barnes shows how the houses which once belonged to the rich, debauched "Happy Valley' lot, now belong to the Kikuyu people, who are trying to make a living from growing crops in the once beautiful, landscaped gardens. The houses are all now in a state of disrepair, but the views and surrounding countryside unchanged. However, although well researched the author jumped from one house to another and from one character to another to such an extent that it was confusing and I found myself losing interest - Not sure if I would reccomend to a friend.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David O'Dowling

    What do i know I was born in Kenya , yes my Uncle and his second wife Betty rescued and later saved many more giraffe . My grand mother is mentioned in the book Mary Miller previously Mary Leslie-Melville . I think the editing and translation of this book seem to Pete out at the end when the supposed delinquent fades from the scene but all in all an interesting book as it added pieces that had previously been missing in my own life puzzle , thankyou Dancy for suggesting this book to me .

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    Covers the society and circumstances around Lord Erroll's murder (well known from "White Mischief" book and film), but even more interesting is what has become of the properties and country in the years since. Nicely illustrated.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Notaro

    fun, informative read following The Boter. author traverses Kenya in present day to search out the ruins and reamins of the infamous Happy Valley set, and dives into the history as well. Awesome to learn what survived Kenya's independence, what didn't and why. lots on the murder of lord erroll.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    good but oddly incoherent

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Interesting, but a bit heavy going. The small print meant that I finally gave up on it, unfortunately.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennie Choi

  30. 5 out of 5

    Thomas K. Stevenson

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