FICTION fired by moral outrage is a tricky thing to handle. The best example in recent years was probably John le Carre’s The Constant Gardener where his anger at the behaviour of big pharmaceutical companies drove a superb plot.
Bridget Pitt’s outrage is directed at genetically modified foodstuffs, and the dangers of their unregulated use — and the impossibility of regulating them anyway. And, with this as a backdrop to the plot, she has produced a fine novel in The Unseen Leopard.
Its protagonist, Samantha Campbell, is in the throes of deep depression. Three years before the novel opens, her beloved younger sister Melissa, a doctor, was killed in a road accident in the Eastern Cape, and Sam is struggling to come to terms with the death as she brings up Melissa’s son and battles against her resentment of his father, Dylan, and the fear that one day he will want to take the child away from her.
A second strand is the diary, or letter to Samantha written by James McIntyre, an American conservationist and former microbiologist who was Melissa’s lover. He opens by saying: “I killed your sister”, but that bald statement hides a complex and disturbing truth.
There are many unseen leopards in this book, the dangerous things that lurk just out of our sight, but closer than we think. It is a complex novel, but Pitt deftly weaves her strands together, and the climax is both gripping and moving.
There are a couple of moments, particularly towards the end, where you can feel Pitt trying not to allow her feelings about GM either to overwhelm the human story or to seem as if they have been tacked on. But generally she succeeds, and has produced a powerful novel about people, grief, the long, clutching fingers of the past and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Margaret von Klemperer
The Unseen Leopard
Human & Rousseau