This novel, steeped in the tradition of a comedy of manners, seems easily comparable to a Jane Austen work. What it embodies, however, is the theme of exoticism that is put forward by our narrator and main character, the unnamed anthropology student in Africa. Her time in Botswana is one of learning the rules and norms of her inhabited place, but her academic background and insightful narration allude to the ills of an exotic understanding and we, following behind her, seem to struggle between criticism, laughter, and enjoyment from the landscape.
Today, Africa is a loaded word and continent, where Detective Agencies – a la the Alexander McCall Smith Series – and Anthropology students are in danger of seeming trite and foolish compared to the realities of the place. But, what both accomplish is to create a sense of place that is much more than sickness, poverty, and destruction. Mating is a very layered and deep novel that is at times more difficult than Ulysses and denser than Middlemarch and I would not recommend it to anyone who has not enjoyed both of those novels. In fact, it seems the sort of book that is written for people who love difficult books as it follows the Pynchonesque method of inserting cultural references within cultural references, a thicket of referentiality that can be wonderful for those who ‘get it’ and obnoxious to those who don’t. For me, though, its referential density redeems it and represents a renewal of this modernist form by setting the encyclopedic, intellectual, wonderfully insightful and guiding narrator in Africa instead of in English shire’s or familiar urban streets. The African setting is a labyrinth fit for the Joycean consciousness, and it reminds the reader that there is much more to literature than Dublin and London and New York City.