I have a bit of a fascination for transition SA at the moment and have had a voyeuristic interest in Hillbrow for ages it can often sound to the outsider like a real life SF dystopia It took me bloody ages to get a copy of this book, which is generally cited as one of the definitive novels of South African transition Happily, it s now back in print It s entertaining and thoughtful than comedy might suggest Firstly, Aubrey Tearle He s a memorable portrait of a linguistically fixated, pedantic old Boomer who s sorely lacking perspective Yes, a highly recognisable archetype just witness a cluster of the recently retired talking crosswords ubiquity of labels on teeshirts loud music baseball caps in any boozer in the English speaking world Yet he s brittle and human too, and often rather unintentionally moving his loneliness, his brutal honesty about his own appearance and his disappointment at the successive withering of promising friendships He s also dryly funny and very realistically, his best gags fall on the deaf ears of peers , putting out a stream of strong wisecracks this being first person e.g describing Bogey s leather jacket as from the sweepings of an abattoir and numerous damning dismissals of the world around That first line is characteristically snappy and brutal too A salesman buggering a pink elephant He s joined by a coterie of rounded supporting characters Spilkin new best friend, then Judas M.T Wessels the kind of man you get stuck with when you are forced to socialise at conferences Though comic, the novel does also reflect deeply on transition Aubrey sees the detail, but is wilfully blind to the wider picture He hasn t really thought about what change will mean he s too busy reading phonebooks and tut tutting at decor , and doesn t get why it s due I think the character is stronger for the relatively subtle way in which Vladislavic handles Aubrey s racism it s pretty passive and not especially loud or caricatured I started wondering if we were to be served a Rainbow epiphany at dawn with the young lady, Shirlaine but that s not him All told you re not really thinking it through, are you, Aubs Shirlaine s line towards the end is a subtle little cut and summary of his crisis It s not the end of civilisation, you know There are new places for whites opening up in Rosebank And for all of the presence of Aubrey s voice, we aren t spared style and experiment The story within the story chapter breaks for some flashes of rather delicate writing lovers were leaning on the parapets to watch the moon dissolve like a paper doily in the Indian ink of the water The acting out Aubrey s fantasy about Alibia a sort of If Proofreaders Were Superheroes is also engagingly disruptive there s a touch of SF there, actually And of course, the very idea of a fantasy about a place, in a mural, in a bar is totally to character the lonely man playing God like a child poking an ant s nest in a sandbox He s very good at rendering accent too from the slovenly peer to the Portuguese Mozambiquan shop assistants Recommended and right that s it back in print. This Exhilarating Novel By Prize Winning Author Ivan Vladislavi Is A Linguistic Tour De Force, A Spectacular Carnival Of Post Modern Commentary, Urban Satire, Riotous Imagery And Outrageous Wordplay Set In Hillbrow During The Tumultuous Years Of Apartheid S Demise, The Rapid Changes Taking Place Both In The Neighbourhood And The Country Are Charted By Staid, Conservative Aubrey Tearle, A Retired Proofreader Whose Life Has Been Devoted To Reading Telephone Directories Obsessed With What He Terms Corrigenda Mistakes That Crop Up With Increasing Frequency As Standards Decline He Embarks On A Grandiose Plan To Enlighten His Fellow Citizens, With Disastrous, Hilarious And Poignant ResultsDemonstrating A Cervantes Like Knack For Creating Innocents Who Tilt At Windmills, Vladislavi Continues To Demonstrate The Dazzling And Unique Talent Seen In His Previous Writings As He Explores The Age Old Theme Of How Individuals Respond When Things Fall Apart And What Can Occur When Language Itself Is In A State Of Flux This Highly Original Novel Reflects Post Apartheid, Post Modern Writing At Its Best Alcohol spoke in the archaic, extravagant language it uses during our arguments It said This is your lucky day, spindleshanks Nature has done you a favour by dimming your sight Personally, I prefer reading silently, to myself Reading belongs in the head, behind the eyes, not just under the breath, but inside the folds of the brain I can tolerate reading out loud on occasion, if the words are enunciated clearly and the circumstances are fit But this soundless movement of the lips is uncouth, like a cat twitching trough a rutting dream Nine out of ten people died peacefully Did no one die kicking and screaming any , cursing God and the sawbones They all seemed to struggle with such good grace against cruel misfortune One miserable death acknowledged, on long season of pointless suffering faced with bitterness and resentment, would have been a breath of fresh air Dotting on i might be regarded as a mere punctilio, and failing to do so dismissed as a trifle But all the dots left off all the i s accumulate, they build up, they pack together like a cloud over a field of stubbly iotas Soon there is a haze of them in every hollow, and the finer distinctions begin to evade us In the end, the veil of uncertainty grows so thick that everything is obscured. A really awesome story of a retired proofreader who critiques the changing apartheid society in Johannesburg, South Africa in the 1970s using his editing vocabulary, extensive knowledge of etymology, and other proofreading skills It is challenging, a dictionary is often needed, but also a very different kind of apartheid book because events are only learned as they are perceived by the narrator who doesn t pay attention to actual events as much as he does to the errors they are presented with. Whilst I wouldn t normally venture to write a review, it seems a shame that a book this accomplished doesn t have one So here are my thoughts Please bear in mind it s been a couple of months since I finished the book The protagonist, Aubrey Tearle, is a retired yet accomplished proofreader, fighting a familiar battle against redundancy not only of his profession which is increasingly irrelevant to the society he sees himself as serving, but of the society in which he has found a comfortable niche Bit by bit, he sees the things that he holds dear slowly crumbling around him, usurped by meaningless consumerism and coarse behaviour Apartheid is seldom explicitly mentioned, but the context of the novel is dependent upon it s slow and continual unravelling.We re given a compelling insight into Tearle s world He s fusty, anal, and consider s himself a defender of the moral good There are frequent exercises in wordplay, as one might expect from a proofreader, and whole paragraphs devoted to the intricacies of grammar and vocabulary In short, it s a pedant s treasure, and I was quite frequently lulled into thinking that I had a trait or two in common with Tearle, which certainly took me aback The story does not have a frenetic pace the action taking place over a couple of weeks but there aren t any significant dormant periods and I finished the book quickly As part of Tearle s crusade, a chapter is devoted to his own short story, which is a good work of surreal fiction in it s own right, and a welcome reprieve from the banality of Tearle s story.Readers familiar with other South African writers such as Andre Brink and J.M Coetzee will notice the similarity of style, clear, concise prose and neatly constructed fiction In many ways, this is it s biggest pitfall the academic style doesn t really distinguish it from those others I can t help but feel that the plot is also not particularly orignal, notwithstanding the futile resistance theme playing out effectively and compellingly through a different, yet recognisable set of characters Of course, there is some liberation towards the end of the novel, and for all those pitfalls which wouldn t necessarily bother those who hadn t read Brink or Coetzee it was a rewarding read, made better surprisingly so, in retrospect by allusions to other works by Vladislavic, notably The Loss Library.Is this worth reading Whenever I reccommend a book to someone, I always ask myself the question Is it worth reading again Yes it is. I m not entirely sure what I think about this book Possibly I need to wait a week or two and let it settle in my head.Definitely the sort of book a grammar nazi would love, lots of proofreader references and clever ways with English And very evocative of Hillbrow of the 1990s But somehow it lacked pace I kept expecting something momentous to happen, seeing all this as background to the story While there is a little bit of action in the final pages, it feels inadequate somehow, by then.I m giving it 4 stars because it was very, very well written and holding back one star for plot It s a work of verbal pyrotechnics sometimes to a fault slowing down the momentum but always amazing I picked it up on a visit to South Africa, and it introduced me to a new sub genre of writing novels about the bridging period between apartheid and a freer society We view am earthshaking transformation via the mentality of a fussy retired proof reader, confident in his absolute certainties. I think it was a little too experimental for my taste I figured since it was set in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa, during the time that the neighborhood was waning, that it would reveal about the PLACE But it was kind of a weird book. Great slightly altered reality, subtle shades of South Africa. Brilliant What a writer The hero is tragi comic Aubrey Tearle and the setting Hillbrow, Johannesburg in the 80s as the country changes politically and demographically Ivan V is a master of metaphor and wry, even black humour It is written with depth and is cerebrally quite challenging Tearle s observations are rich with etymological word play that is completely lost on his companions I loved the book not only for the familiar landmarks and Braamfontein streets of my younger days, but also for the caricature like characters Yet they too are also believable in the grubbiness of Jo burg s inner suburbs Aubrey Tearle, the elderly grumpy nerd who proofreads phone books and is in a state of permanent outrage about the changes around him, will stay in my mind for a long time Some reviewer described him as a Prufrock figure Although there were many times when I laughed out loud, this is a portrait of a society undergoing an uncomfortable transition.A very clever plot, although the dystopian middle section Fluxman in Albilia had me puzzled at first.
Ivan Vladislavi is a novelist, essayist and editor He lives in Johannesburg where he is a Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand His books include The Folly, The Restless Supermarket, Portrait with Keys and Double Negative Among his recent publications are Flashback Hotel, a compendium of early stories The Loss Library, a reflection on writing and
- 304 pages
- The Restless Supermarket
- Ivan Vladislavić
- 14 October 2019 Ivan Vladislavić