Where's the book?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Nadine Gordimer. Check.

I can cross another always-meant-to-read author off my list. For my February book group, we read Nadine Gordimer's The House Gun. Here's my ten-cent review: stiff, cold, opaque, distant, vague.

The story is a simple one -- and a fascinating one, at least from the synopsis. A successful South African couple, he the director of an insurance company, she a doctor, are faced with something that does not happen to people like them: their twenty-something son has committed a murder. The facts of the case are very straightforward and his guilt is beyond doubt, so the story is about how his parents deal with what has happened. But for a tale that should be emotional and internal, the writing is cold and far, far away from what is going on within the two main characters.

Gordimer does not set a scene; there is little if any description of place or person. Their home is a blank except for the terrace where they watch the sunset. There are few details about the characters physically or of their emotional terrain. The style feels more like that of a short story, where we are given glancing details and few words are wasted on description. The story moves along, but it always feels like it is visiting each scene glancingly, or like we're watching it from very far away, through a telescope.

There are no quotation marks, which I usually don't mind if it's handled well, but in this case it's confusing. Gordimer goes in and out of dialogue and narrative and thought, often in the same paragraph, and it becomes difficult, sometimes impossible, to tell what is said and what is thought and what is the narration.

A little bit of tension works up during the trial but the constant rehashing of the minimal details of the case -- by the lawyers, by the judge, by the parents -- gets tiresome. I won't give away the ending (in case, after this lousy review, you run out and buy the book) but it made me cross South Africa off my list of countries to visit.

One good thing I can say about the book: Despite the fact that no one in my book group particularly liked it, it made for an excellent discussion.

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