In Ghosts of Happy Valley, Juliet Barnes writes about the houses built and owned by a group of white, hedonistic aristocrats in the area of Kenya known as the ‘Happy Valley’, a region of the Wanjohi Valley near the Aberdare mountain range, from the 1920s to the 1940s. The Happy Valley got its name from all of the debauchery and naughty goings-on that happened there, largely led by Lady Idina Sackville. You may have seen the White Mischief movie, which featured some of the participants.
The buildings in question were not fantastic constructions, and there were not all that many of them, and some of them are now little more than ruins, but Juliet Barnes makes them come alive once more in the pages of this book. Barnes made numerous visits to Wanjohi Valley, mostly in the company of a chap called Solomon Gitau, who works tirelessly for various conservation projects and who despises the recent destruction of large parts of the Aberdare forest as a result of population growth and unenforced regulations.
Ghosts of Happy Valley is a fascinating book, though at times I found it difficult to follow all of the historical characters involved, as they are numerous and many had nicknames. An awful lot of them seem to have had character flaws, many became alcoholics and several met with untimely deaths from one cause or another. The murder of Josslyn Hay (Lord Erroll), who was married to Lady Idina, has fascinated a lot of people, as no-one was ever convicted of the crime, and Barnes examines the evidence once more.